Despite an uptick in homicides this year, New York City has the lowest homicide rate among the five largest U.S. cities, continuing a trend of declining killings here that began more than two decades ago.

Through Sunday, the city recorded 186 homicides and, based on its estimated population of 8.49 million, has a homicide rate of 2.2 killings for each 100,000 residents. During the 1990 peak homicide level of 2,245 killings, the homicide rate was 30.66 per 100,000.

Based on current homicide trends, NYPD officials think the city could record about 350 killings this year, a bit higher than last year's 333 but still at a rate of just over 4 per 100,000.

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"New York has broken new ground on what is possible with violence in a very large city," said Franklin Zimring, a noted criminologist and professor who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.

A growing Asian population, which traditionally has a very low homicide level, has been driving the city's killing rate lower. Homicide rates in the black and Hispanic communities also have declined, although those two groups account for most of the city's homicide victims, Zimring said.

By comparison, other large U.S. cities are experiencing higher killing rates and in some cases, though they have fewer people than the Big Apple, are notching up more homicides. For instance, through July 12, Chicago, a city of 2.72 million with some recent high-profile shootings, has recorded 232 homicides this year, up 18 percent from a year ago. The Windy City's homicide rate is currently at 8.52.

Los Angeles, the nation's second most populous city with 3.92 million, has recorded 138 homicides through July 11, a drop of 2.8 percent from the same period in 2014. This has resulted in a homicide rate of 3.52 per 100,000 in Los Angeles.

Such low rates of life-threatening violence in New York City and Los Angeles may at some point make it fair to start comparing them to other large and less violent global cities such as London and Paris instead of other U.S. urban areas, Zimring said.

Professor Eugene O'Donnell of John Jay College of Criminal Justice said he thinks the continuing low rate of homicides in the city is a reflection of the gentrification of some parts of the boroughs -- causing poorer people to be squeezed out -- as well as the NYPD's enforcement efforts.

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Former NYPD Det. Joseph Giacalone, now a policing consultant, agreed that the economic rebound and redevelopment throughout the city has played a role in keeping violence in check.

"There were places in Brooklyn that were a war zone that now have cupcake stores," Giacalone said.

While other cities such as Chicago seem to be resigned to a certain level of gun violence and death, New York has for years taken a more aggressive stance on such violence, O'Donnell said.

"You see a shot in New York City and they [police] will go all-out," said O'Donnell, a former member of the NYPD.

"You have to think about stop, question and frisk and the proactive policing we have in the city," Giacalone said.

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Gun availability also appears to be a factor and may be driving the violence in other cities. New York's anti-gun laws, while not deterring all criminals, very often result in stiff sentences and have played a role in stopping some of the violence, experts said.