HOUSTON (AP) – Evacuees from Hurricane Katrina have contributed to an increase in Houston’s annual homicide rate, which could climb this year to its highest level in more than a decade, police said.

Houston had 316 homicides as of Oct. 16. That’s an increase of 25 percent from the 252 slayings tallied at this time last year, putting the city on pace to record nearly 400 killings before the end of 2006.

“We recognize that the homicide rate is up as far as raw numbers and as well as percentages relative to the population,” Capt. Dwayne Ready said. “We also recognize that Katrina evacuees continue to have an impact on the murder rate.”

When Katrina swamped New Orleans last year, 250,000 people fled to Houston. As many as 150,000 evacuees remain in the city.

Houston’s murder rate has been much higher in the past, especially 1981, when the city was dubbed the nation’s murder capital with 701 slayings. Even if the city reaches 400 homicides, Ready said, “it’s not a bleak picture.”

At least 65 slayings in 2006 have been classified as Katrina-related, meaning either the victim, suspect or both evacuated to Houston after Katrina. Police have not kept records of how evacuees have affected crime rates other than homicide.

The murder rate began to rise at the end of last year, when the city recorded 334 homicides. During the previous 10 years, Houston never exceeded the 316 slayings counted in 1995.

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