OGDEN -- Late in 1988 Ogden officials to their civic relief proclaimed the city was no longer the murder capital of Utah.
Numbers had dropped below 1987's watermark of 23 homicides, then-Mayor Cliff Goff announced at an Ogden City Council meeting. The 1987 tally having exceeded Salt Lake City's total. But in '88 the state capital and largest city had retaken the murder title, Goff said happily.
Fast forward: The fatal shooting of a 26-year-old man Aug. 31 in the 1700 block of Lincoln Avenue was the city's first homicide since October.
While Ogden has yet to go a calendar year in recent memory without a homicide, the numbers have been staying down, flatlining, so to speak.
The last year the city had more than four murders was 2001, according to various recording sources. Since the end of 2009 only five cases of fatal mayhem total have taken place. Homicide-free gaps have been growing, including a Jan. 2010 to Dec. 2011 span.
Assistant Ogden Police Chief Wayne Tarwater, with the force 36 years now, points to manpower and funding.
OPD currently has 136 sworn officers, he said, compared to a low of 106 during the comparatively murderous 1980s.
"Obviously the more officers you have the more you can affect different parts of the community," said the assistant chief, part of the force 36 years now. "But how do you prove how many crimes you've prevented? It's difficult to measure that."
Veteran Ogden defense attorney Bernie Allen has more cultural explanations.
Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision conditionally allowing abortion.
It's a theory advanced in the 2005 book Freakonomics about the general decline in crime nationwide since the early 1990s Ogden's homicide decline is part of, Allen said.
The book has about 30 pages devoted to the postulated positive outcome of the pro-choice ruling allowing woman to avoid unwanted pregnancies. The "unwanted" population Roe prevented, as the theory goes, would have reached about age 20, "a prime, crime-wagging age" by the early 90s, Allen said.
"Unwanted children tend to grow up dysfunctional," Allen said. "It's just one theory."
Allen has been practicing law in downtown Ogden since 1981. "When I started you could not walk down 25th Street after 5 p.m.," something he says city government has changed dramatically through traditional urban renewal in fits and starts ever since.
The now defunct Ogden City Mall was a start in 1979, he said. Then the city "on its own dime" refurbished two of the sagging stores on 25th Street in the mid-1980s and sold them for a profit. That started a long process that today sees virtually every address on the Washington to Wall stretch of 25th Street remodeled and occupied, he said.
"It's harder to hide in the crevices when the lights are on," Allen said. "25th Street is a huge source of pride for us now."
Officers point to other efforts, such as the 2007 creation of the Crime Reduction Unit targeting Ogden's "Inner City," generally between Harrison and Washington boulevards and 20th and 30th streets, with the highest crime rates.
The officers also cite the Ogden Trece Injunction, the controversial document enacted in mid-2010 to essentially keep the city's oldest street gang off the streets. The Utah Supreme Court is currently mulling a challenge to the constitutionality of the injunction, the first of its kind in Utah.
"I'm positive its had an impact," said Ogden Lt. Will Cragun, a 27-year departmental veteran who was the sergeant assigned the Ogden Metro Gang Unit when it created the injunction along with the Weber County Attorney's Office. "It's a deterrent to other gangs besides Trece as well with (County Attorney) Dee Smith talking about expanding it to other gangs.
"Even some of the motorcycle gangs are wondering about it. We had some feelers from them, the national chapter offices," Cragun said.
"My best guess would be the Trece injunction," said Shane Minor, now an investigator with the county attorney's office who started with OPD in 1980, on what's keeping murders down to one or two a year these days. "It's an invaluable tool."
The officers also talk about improved medical technology the past 30 years. "The paramedics can get the victims to the hospital faster and in better shape," Minor said. "The improved technology factors into it."
Urban renewal, Allen reiterates.
Which he said includes OPD's development of community police with officers on foot and bicycles, and spear-heading refurbishing efforts that turned the long-empty and cavernous American Can Company on Grant Avenue, for one example, into the DaVinci Academy.
The city also organizes volunteer groups once a year, paying for paint and rakes, etc., to go on fix-up binges, Allen said. "I believe that makes more of a difference than people think," he said. "Roving gangs of do-gooders."
"Any time you give people pride in where they live, it's harder for them to let negative things go on," Allen said.
Contact reporter Tim Gurrister at 801-625-4238, email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tgurrister