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William Thompson, the Richmond police detective assigned to investigate the case, quickly determined that Mr. Llano had been shot by a man named Chris A. Tucker, after the two argued about Mr. Llano being at Tucker’s girlfriend’s house.

Tucker was charged in the killing by the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office in the fall of 2004. The case fell apart when crucial prosecution witnesses changed their minds about testifying, and in November 2004 the prosecution withdrew its case.

The case might have remained unsolved, but in May 2005 ATF Agent Danny Board and Detective Thompson coordinated their efforts to gain an indictment on federal drug charges. The U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted Tucker, who was sentenced in December 2005 to five years in prison. That got Tucker off the street — and it made witnesses in the case more cooperative.

Other arrests made in the course of the Tucker investigation netted witnesses who were either with Tucker the night he killed Mr. Llano or whom he had told of the killing. Those people were persuaded to testify against him.

The information led investigators to the man to whom Tucker sold the shotgun he used to kill Mr. Llano. The man proved uncooperative, but authorities were quickly able to link the reluctant witness to several drug deals. They filed drug charges against him. At that point, he agreed to tell prosecutors what he knew about Tucker.

In November 2007, prosecutors indicted Tucker on murder charges.

On Aug. 12, Tucker pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 years in prison with 11 years suspended.

Each year since the inception of the CVRP in 2005, homicides in this city of 200,000 have declined. Richmond recorded 93 homicides in 2004, the last full year before the program’s inception. The city recorded 85 killings in 2005, 80 in 2006, 55 in 2007 and 32 last year.

No U.S. city of more than 100,000 that provided crime totals to the FBI saw homicides decline each year over the four-year period and at as dramatic a rate as Richmond.

“I was astonished,” said Edgar A. Domenech, special agent in charge of the ATF Washington field office. “I was astonished to see the numbers as they dropped.”

CQ Press, which annually issues a rank of the country’s most dangerous cities for crime, last month ranked Richmond No. 49 on its list. The ranking is down from No. 5 just four years ago.

So far, the CVRP has worked in relative secrecy - the city’s homicide numbers largely attributed to better policing and good fortune. A lack of publicity has meant no outcries over different standards of justice, the uneven application of zero-tolerance policing or criticism that authorities are harassing people they can’t build cases against.

Even the ACLU of Virginia, which in the past has objected to Richmond policing methods, admitted it had never heard of the CVRP.

But the partnership’s methods have raised some questions in the community.

“I have actually heard some resentment,” Mr. Herring said, describing a community meeting at which a young woman stood up and asked why a drug dealer in her community was handed a longer prison sentence than a man convicted of murder.

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