Murder rate on pace for double-digit increase in NYC

(AP) - The city is at risk of having a double-digitincrease in its murder rate, troubling news for officials who haverelied on favorable crime statistics that often defy nationaltrends to tout New York as the safest big city in America. The latest numbers obtained Friday by The Associated Press showhomicides totaled 464 through Thursday, up 16 percent from the 400reported at the same time last year. With seven weeks left in 2010,the total is only seven short of that for all of last year. New York Police Department officials insist the numbers, thougha concern, aren't overly alarming when put in the context ofdramatic crime-fighting gains since 1990. The city had a record2,245 homicides that year. Even if the current pace holds, the department projects theyear-end murder total would still be the third lowest since itstarted keeping comparable records in 1962. The lowest was lastyear at 471, followed by 496 in 2007. "Things have generally been going in the right direction,"Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said earlier this week. Thelonger-term decreases, he added, "indicate our effort andstrategies are continuing to work." One strategy the nation's largest police department has reliedon in recent years: Assigning hundreds of rookie officers toneighborhoods where crime has crept up. Recent budget cuts havedrastically reduced those recruit numbers and the overall size ofthe force, to roughly 34,800 officers from a high of more than40,000 in 2002. The department has compensated by extending the assignments ofthe new officers in trouble spots from six months to 18 months ormore until the hiring restrictions ease, NYPD spokesman Paul Brownesaid Friday. "It would make our lives easier to have the additionalofficers, but we can't attribute (the rise in homicides) strictlyto the head count," he said. Police say domestic violence, always difficult to combat, hasresulted in 63 deaths in the city this year, up from 54 in 2009.And shootings have climbed 4.2 percent citywide. But NYPD officials and experts agree there's no readyexplanation for the jump in murders, even in a bad economy. Andrew Karmen, a professor at John Jay College of CriminalJustice, noted Friday that amid the national financial meltdown andcity budget crunch, the department still recorded significant dropsin crime last year. He suggested the latest homicide numbers reflect a fluctuation -not a re-emergence of the mayhem of old. "This is not the first year there's been a spike or somebacksliding," he said. "One bad year does not make a trend."

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