NEW YORK (AP) — The number of murders in New York City is expected to hit a record low this year, and shootings are at their lowest point in at least 18 years, officials said Friday.
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.
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.