The number of New York City homicides dropped to 327, a new low, in 2014 -- a modest decline of 2.4 percent from 335 the previous year, according to NYPD statistics released Wednesday.
While the city has recorded fewer than 300 homicides at various times in the 20th century, police officials said comparisons with those earlier years are difficult because record keeping only became consistent around 1962, when 508 killings were recorded.
Barring any last-minute spate of killings before the new year, the homicide rate in New York City will be 3.89 per 100,000 people, the first time it has been under 4.0 since about 1950, officials said.
"If it stays this low it remains unmitigated good news in ways that couldn't have been anticipated, even just a decade ago," said noted criminologist and law professor Franklin Zimring of the University of California Berkeley School of Law.
"The very obvious thing about totals is that anybody who is looking for bad news or rebound [in crime] in New York City isn't going to find it," Zimring said.
The police department's totals for 2014 were as of Tuesday.
The dip in murders comes as part of a year in which the city experienced an overall 4.8 percent drop in serious felonies. Almost all major crime categories declined in 2014, except for auto thefts, which increased 4.1 percent, the NYPD said.
But while homicides continued to decline from the historic high of 2,245 in 1989, the pace of the drop appears to have cooled with a 2 percent decline, raising the question of whether the city might be hitting bottom on the declines. In 2013, homicides dropped 20 percent from 2012, records show.
Another wrinkle: Shootings went up 6 percent in 2014, with the number of shooting victims increasing 7.2 percent, according to police. At one point in the year, the NYPD saw shootings increase by almost 13 percent, a trend that forced Commissioner William Bratton during the summer to shift cops to high-crime areas of Brooklyn and the Bronx.
The positive crime trend was overshadowed the past month by fewer moving violations and summonses for criminal offenses written by officers. Police data show cops recorded 53 percent fewer criminal summonses in the last month, as well as 38 percent fewer parking tickets and 26 percent fewer moving violations. For the week ending this past Sunday, there was a more than 90 percent drop in summonses, records show.
Police union officials deny there is a slowdown caused by fear for officer safety after the slayings of officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu on Dec. 20 and by anger with Mayor Bill de Blasio's posture on recent demonstrations. But police historian Thomas Reppetto said that if the enforcement continues to drop, crime may go up.
One statistical quirk is that the NYPD counts as current-year homicides deaths that have been reclassified from earlier years. In one 2014 case, a 97-year-old man stabbed more than 40 years ago was listed as a homicide this past year because authorities determined he died from his old injuries, police spokesman Stephan Davis said. Eleven earlier reclassified crimes were put into the 2014 homicide total, police said.
Minorities still make up the largest number of homicide victims. NYPD data through Tuesday show that black residents were victims in 62.3 percent of homicides; Hispanics, 25.3 percent; whites, 7.2 percent; and Asians, 5 percent.