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Despite high-profile crimes, city nears safety record

A 13-year-old boy is shot and killed by a stray bullet while on his way to a McDonald’s in Queens. A woman is gunned down on the street while her two young children scream in horror. A shootout in the middle of Times Square terrifies tourists and holiday shoppers.

It may seem like the Wild West out there, with a rash of high-profile and very public crimes fueling the sense that the city is a tinder box waiting to explode in violence.

But by most measures, New York is safer than ever: If the current pace holds, this year will have the fewest murders since reliable record keeping began nearly half a century ago.

“This is a great achievement,” said Andrew Karmen, a professor of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “If you compare it to the bad old days of the 1990s, it’s down some 80 percent.”

The city is on pace to record 463 murders this year, according to statistics provided by the NYPD. That would be down from 523 last year and 494 in 2007, which was the third-lowest on record.

It is a far cry from the high of 2,245 in 1990, or even the 671 from 10 years ago. The same holds true for other crime: Robbery and aggravated assaults are down nearly 40 percent in the past decade.

“I feel safer, because the city is always awake and alive,” said Jenine Elhindi, 28, of Bay Ridge. “I see a lot of cops around and know they’re quick to respond.”

Still, perception and reality do not always match up.

“I don’t feel safe,” Michael Zimran, 25, of Astoria. “Each community has its own flavor of crime.”

Shanto Iyengar, a political science professor at Stanford University, said local media coverage of murder and mayhem has increased during the past 10 to 15 years, even as crime has continued to drop.

“If you look at crime nationwide in major urban areas you see a decline, but if you look at the number of people who say that crime is their primary concern, it has continued to go up,” he said.

City Councilman Peter Vallone, chairman of the public safety committee, noted that random violence – such as the shooting of 15-year-old Vada Vasquez, who took a stray bullet in the head last month in the Bronx – looms larger in the public consciousness than most other crimes.

“Certain crimes evoke more of a visceral reaction,” he said. “There’s a feeling of ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’”

Phoebe Kingsak contributed to this story


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