(Updates with comments from sociologist in eighth paragraph.)
Dec. 28 (Bloomberg) -- New York City homicides this year will total “slightly more than” 500, the third fewest since record-keeping began five decades ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said today.
The city had 502 killings as of this morning, according to Marc LaVorgna, a mayoral spokesman. The record low was 471 in 2009; second lowest was 499 in 2007, according to police statistics.
New York recorded 536 homicides last year, according to the police department’s website. Before 2002, the city hadn’t experienced fewer than 600 murders since the early 1960s, the mayor’s office said in a statement. Record-keeping began in 1963.
“New York City closes out the safest decade in recorded city history,” Bloomberg said at a City Hall news conference today. The police and fire departments “continued a remarkable and history-making trend, even working under tight budget constraints,” he said.
Low crime and fire-death rates have contributed to the growth of the city’s population to a record 8.4 million, record life-expectancy rates and an all-time high of more than 50 million tourists in 2011, Bloomberg said. The combination gave the city “an economic recovery far more robust than other areas of the country have seen,” the mayor said.
By contrast, Chicago had 432 murders in 2010, according to the FBI. Its population is 2.69 million, according to the census. Los Angeles, with a population of 3.69 million, had 293 homicides.
The bloodiest year in New York history was 1990, when 2,245 people were killed at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, said Andrew Karmen, a sociology professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. Homicide has been on a 20-year decline, with most of the progress made in the 1990s, said Karmen, author of a 2000 book on the subject called “New York Murder Mystery.” At the end of the 1990s, the body count had dropped to about 680, he said.
“Nobody knows for sure why this has happened,” Karmen said.
While the decline in the murder rate is sharper in New York than in the U.S. as a whole, reasons other than more efficient and tougher policing may be at work, Karmen said.
What makes New York different from other cities is that a bigger proportion of its young people attend college, Karmen said. The City University of New York has more than 480,000 students.
“They might be taking remedial courses at community colleges of CUNY or they might be studying at Columbia,” he said. “Students between 18 and 24 who are taking courses at colleges lead a very different lifestyle than other 18-to-24- year-olds,” who are at the highest risk of being murdered.
Major crime in 2011 was up 0.4 percent because a change in the state’s criminal law expanded the definition of felony assault, LaVorgna said. Under the old formula, major crime would have decreased 1.2 percent, the 21st-straight annual drop.
This year’s 64 fire deaths were the second lowest, above last year’s 62, the mayor said.
Since 2002, there has been an average of 88 fire deaths per year, according to a city statement. In the decade before 2002, New York averaged 140 fire deaths per year, the release said.
“Fires and fire death are at or near historic lows, and response times for both fire and EMS are the fastest ever,” said Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano in the statement.
The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
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