NEW YORK - Strict gun laws and specialized programs targeting dangerous areas combined with good old-fashioned policing have kept crime on the decline in New York City for much of the decade, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday.
So far this year, there have been 461 murders, which means the city is on track to have the lowest number since record-keeping began in the 1960s. Last year, there were 522 murders and 496 the year before. Cases continue to be solved at a steady 70 percent rate.
Overall crime is down in the city 11 percent from last year and 35 percent from 2001 when Bloomberg took office. The only major crime on the rise is felony assault, which was up 2 percent this year, according to the city's CompStat program, which tracks crime statistics daily.
The city "is safer today than in any point in modern history," Bloomberg said at a news conference following the graduation of a new police academy class.
The figures reflect a nationwide trend. Preliminary FBI crime figures for the first half of 2009 show crime falling across the country. Murder and manslaughter fell 10 percent for the first half of the year.
Crime proved to be a hot-button issue in Philadelphia for much of the decade, as the city's murder rate see-sawed to the chagrin of local residents and politicians.
In 2000, under then-Police Commissioner John Timoney, the murder tally stood at 319. Two years later, under Timoney's successor, Sylvester Johnson, the total fell to 288 homicides, the lowest since 1985. But in 2006, the murder tally surged to 406 -- at a time when many other large cities were seeing record-low homicide totals.
The spike in deadly crime attracted national attention and earned the city the cringe-worthy nickname, "Killadelphia."
Former Washington, D.C., police chief Charles Ramsey took the reins of the Police Department in 2008, and has overseen a decline in homicides -- from 330 during his first year on the job to 300, as of Sunday, according to police statistics. Violent crime has also decreased 8 percent since Ramsey's arrival, statistics show.
Bloomberg said that New York's rates are particularly impressive. Twenty years ago, the city was considered dangerous and rife with crime.
The city's homicide rate reached an all-time high of 2,245 in 1990, making it the murder capital of the nation. Since then, the rate has plummeted, the decline in part has been attributed to the placement of most graduating police officers in higher-crime areas known as "impact zones," identified through CompStat.
Most of the officers who graduated yesterday will go into the impact program, which has about 1,700 officers.