An NYPD officer walks with a crowd in Times Square....

An NYPD officer walks with a crowd in Times Square. (Sept. 22, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

New York City ended 2013 with 334 homicides, the lowest number since such statistics were recorded, officials said Tuesday. The city also had a lower homicide rate -- 4 per 100,000 -- than any major U.S. city except for much smaller San Diego and Phoenix.

The homicide rate in New York, which dropped to a record for the second consecutive year, highlights a two-decade decline in killings in the Big Apple that began in 1991 and lasted virtually uninterrupted through the Bloomberg administration. The rate was 5.05 in 2012.

With homicide numbers now so low and the city population at its largest, with an estimated 8.33 million people, the rate of killings is at one of its lowest points since 1950, when it was at a rate around 3.77.

The current rate is much lower than what some historians and criminologists calculated the number to be during the Civil War period and the years immediately after the Revolutionary War, when the city's population was a fraction of what it is now.

NYPD officials have stressed that homicide records weren't consistently kept until 1961, so that any previous numbers may not necessarily be comparable. There were 483 homicides in 1961, and the level continued to increase steadily until it peaked at 2,245 in 1990 -- when the homicide rate was 30.66 per 100,000.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose term ended at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday night, stressed that the big decline in homicides reduced deaths among blacks and Hispanics by close to 9,000 since 2001. That decline in minority deaths, said noted criminologist Franklin Zimring, is one of the more significant developments in the homicide decline in New York.

"For New York to come there under circumstances of having a city that is half ethnic, and racial minorities with traditional high levels of homicides, was absolutely unthinkable -- until it happened," Zimring, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, said Tuesday.

The latest 2013 NYPD data showed that 62 percent of homicide victims were black, 25 percent Hispanic, 7 percent white, 5 percent Asian and 1 percent among unclassified races. Males made up 82 percent of the victims, records show.

The 2013 homicide numbers include 15 reclassifications of cases from earlier years. That means the true level of deaths from homicidal acts done in 2013 actually was 319, said police.

Former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has credited the NYPD's aggressive anti-gang "Operation Crew Cut" and emphasis on domestic-violence incidents with driving homicides so low after a record in 2012. Zimring said city leaders like to credit their latest programs, but it may take years to sort out the actual reasons.

"The explanation for this most recent phase of New York since 2012 will take a long time coming," said Zimring.

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