New York City's homicide level has plummeted by about 27 percent this year, and with just three months left in 2013 is on a pace to sink to below last year's record-setting level -- a point the city has not seen since the dawn of the Space Age, officials said yesterday.
Through Sept. 25, homicides in the city totaled 240, compared with 327 by the same point in 2012, the latest NYPD statistics showed. Last year, the city reported 419 killings, the lowest level since 1962, which was when police developed consistent record-keeping methods.
If the current average of less than one homicide a day holds, New York could see about 323 killings by year's end. Police statistics estimate that the homicide level was last that low in 1956 and 1957.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pointed to the drop in homicides as vindication of the NYPD's policies, and one criminologist said the results are setting a standard for the new occupant of City Hall to match. New York's homicide rate of 2.87 per 100,000 population is among the lowest in the nation.
"That is somewhere close to the 'Guinness Book of World Records,' " said Professor Franklin Zimring of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.
"That big a drop has to be a function of good luck as much as good policy, but it is not less remarkable because it can't be readily explained," said Zimring, author of the book "The City That Became Safe."
"Smarter policing, more information to enable us to put cops where they should be," was what NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said Thursday about the lower homicide level.
Kelly also said the Operation Crew Cut anti-gang offensive, so-called hot spot policing and a focus on domestic violence also have contributed.
The problem for the new mayor and police commissioner, Zimring said, is that the phenomenally good results so far in 2013 set a high standard. If homicides increase in 2014, some may view it as a failure, he said.
"If 240 homicides in almost nine months of New York experience becomes the new benchmark, I am not running for commissioner," Zimring said.
Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio could not be reached, but his GOP rival, Joe Lhota, attributed the improvements "to the proactive police work of the fine men and women of the NYPD."
Randolph Roth, a professor of history at Ohio State University, said New York's falling homicide numbers will be part of a roundtable review in the coming months done by the National Academy of Science. The decline in murders is not just a city phenomenon, he said.
This "is not just about the United States and not just New York City, it is happening in rest of world," Roth said.
But for the country, New York is still setting the standard, Roth said.
"New York is really going down in a straight line, which is different than the rest of the nation," Roth said. "There is something there, it may be policing, it may be demographics."
Philadelphia also has experienced a significant drop in homicides this year, but its smaller population still gives it a rate per 100,000 that is close to four times higher than New York's.