NYC homicides drop to 50-year low; city has lowest homicide rate among largest U.S. cities

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It's official. The year 2012 checked in as having the fewest number of killings in more than 50 years and gives New York City the lowest homicide rate among the largest U.S. cities.

As of 9 p.m. Monday, the city recorded 418 homicides, compared with 515 in 2011, a drop of nearly 19 percent. Except for some upward blips between 2006 and 2010, New York has been experiencing a steady decline in killings in the past 10 years, part of a large downward trend from the high of 2,245 homicides recorded in 1990. In 1961, the city had 483 homicides, although police can't vouch for the accuracy of record-keeping that year.

"Impressive," was how a noted criminologist, Professor Franklin Zimring, labeled the latest results.

"The 2012 decline is the first push under the [low] homicide rates of 2009," said Zimring, who teaches law at the University of California Berkeley School of Law. "It means the city hasn't scraped bottom yet."

Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly chalked up the latest homicide numbers and a drop in shootings to aggressive "hot spot" policing and the controversial stop-and-frisk activity, the latter which decreased somewhat in 2012.

"We're taking 8,000 weapons annually out of the hands of people we stop, 800 of them illegal handguns," Kelly said.

"As long as they do that, they will bring crime down," said police historian Thomas Reppetto, former head of the Citizens Crime Commission.

But Zimring cautioned city officials from giving police credit each time homicides drop because it could also be argued the NYPD was somehow responsible when killings rose in 2010 and 2008.

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"You can't micromanage a homicide count," observed Zimring, whose recent book "The City That Became Safe" examined New York's success in dropping crime rates.

"When you try and award yourself blue ribbons for year-to-year changes, it sort of hurts credibility of the larger picture of what the city did contribute, uniquely and importantly, to an unprecedented decline," Zimring said.

Since the early 1990s, many U.S. cities have experienced declines in the number of homicides and other serious crimes; New York was in a sense part of that overall trend, Zimring said. To its credit, New York has also been squeezing more positive results from the downward trend, he added.

Currently, the city's homicide rate per 100,000 is at 5.07, similar to what it was in 1960. Historians estimate that in 1860 New York had a homicide rate of about 9.19. Meanwhile, Los Angeles the nation's second most populous city, has a 2012 rate of 7.69 with 294 killings, while Detroit with its population of 707,000 has seen 375 homicides and a rate of 53.04. Only San Diego is lower with a rate of 3.39 through November.

Reppetto believes the low homicide numbers indicate that the city shouldn't abandon stop-and-frisk, a program that the New York Civil Liberties Union has challenged in federal court, saying the practice targets black and Hispanics.

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"I think we will keep crime down as long as the [current] system is in effect," said Reppetto. "The question is whether it will be in effect a year from now."

2012 HOMICIDE NUMBERS AND RATES IN TOP U.S. CITIES

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City......2012 Homicides....Population (2011 Est)....Homicide Rate Per 100,000

New York......418..................8,245,000...................5.07

Los Angeles...294..................3,820,000...................7.69

Chicago.......502..................2,707,000...................18.54

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Houston.......216..................2,145,000...................10.06

Philadelphia..329..................1,536,000...................21.41

Phoenix.......93...................1,469,000...................6.63

San Antonio...NA...................1,360,000...................NA

San Diego.....45...................1,326,000...................3.39

Dallas........148..................1,223,000...................12.10

Detroit.......375..................707,000.....................53.04

Washington....86...................618,000.....................13.91

*Note: Population numbers are rounded from 2011 U.S. Census estimates

Homicide rate: The lower the rate, the fewer the number of homicides per 100,000 population

Source: Latest available police department statistics for U.S. cities

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