New York – Despite a number of high profile murders and the two recent fatal subway attacks, New York City is poised to hit a record low murder rate this year, and shootings are at their lowest point in at least 18 years, city officials said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly credited police efforts, including the controversial tactic known as stop and frisk, and Bloomberg said the statistics showed "that the safest big city in America is safer."
So far, there have been 414 homicides citywide this year, 19 percent less than last year and the fewest since reliable record-keeping for killings began in 1963. The previous low was 471, in 2009.
There have been 1,353 shootings this year, a statistic with comparable records going back to 1994. The previous low was 1,420 in 2009, and the number has dropped by more than 8 percent since last year.
Violent crime hit high points in New York in the 1990s, with a record 2,245 murders in 1990.
We're preventing crimes before someone is killed and before someone else has to go to prison for murder or other serious crimes.
- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
While there have been ups and downs since, including a double-digit increase in murders in 2010, the overall drop in crime and violence has helped reshape the city's image. Bloomberg often calls New York the safest big city in America, a description based on FBI statistics for seven major crimes. New York has the lowest rate per 100,000 residents among the 25 most populous U.S. cities.
This year's expected drop in murders is "a testament to the hard work and determination of the men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day — and it also reflects our commitment to doing everything possible to stop gun violence," Bloomberg said in a statement as he and Kelly announced the numbers at a graduation ceremony for more than 1,100 police recruits.
Guns have remained the leading cause of homicide in the city this year, killing 237 people. But that was 20 percent less than last year, officials said.
Tracking neighborhoods where violence is spiking and assigning more officers there has helped drive down shootings, officials said. Kelly also cited stop and frisk, a practice in which officers stop, question and sometimes pat down people they think might be doing something criminal, even if the suspicions don't meet the probable-cause standard for an arrest.
The NYPD began increasing its focus on stop and frisk as a crime-fighting tool in the mid-1990s. The stops have rocketed up on Bloomberg's 11-year watch, hitting a high of 684,330 last year.
The stops net 8,000 weapons a year, including 800 illegal guns, Kelly said.
"We're preventing crimes before someone is killed and before someone else has to go to prison for murder or other serious crimes," he said.
The stops have stirred lawsuits and protests, with critics saying the practice treats innocent people with suspicion and reflects racial profiling. About 87 percent of those stopped last year were black or Hispanic, compared with 53 percent of New York City's population.
The City Council is weighing proposals that would create new rules for the stops and an independent inspector general for the department, measures Bloomberg's administration opposes.
The announcement by the mayor and police commissioner, however, was overshadowed by the previous day's tragic subway killing.
New York City police said Saturday that a woman is in custody in the death of a man who was shoved in front of a speeding subway train, and she "made statements implicating herself."
Detectives questioned her but aren't releasing the 31-year-old suspect's name until she is formally charged, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said in a brief statement. Among other things, investigators were arranging for witnesses to positively identify the woman in custody as the attacker, police said.
Sunando Sen, a 46-year-old Queens resident who was born in India and ran a printing shop, died Thursday night when a woman who had been muttering to herself on a train platform in Queens suddenly knocked him on the tracks as a train entered the station.
The woman fled after the attack. Police released security camera video showing her running from the station.
The attack was the second time this month that someone was pushed to their death in a New York City subway station. A homeless man was arrested in early December and accused of shoving a man in front of a train in Times Square. He is awaiting trial, and claimed he acted in self-defense.
Further details on how police managed to identify the suspect in Sen's death were not immediately available.
Investigators had been following up on tips from people who had seen the security video and were checking homeless shelters and psychiatric units in an attempt to identify the woman.
It was unclear whether she had any connection to Sen. Witnesses told police the two hadn't interacted on the platform as they both waited for the train.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.