New York murders lowest in 50 years: mayor

The number of murders in New York this year fell to its lowest point in 50 years, mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday -- a bit of good news as the United States tries to combat rampant gun violence.

Crime rates and gun laws across the country have been in the spotlight since the December 14 slaying of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Connecticut by a 20-year-old man who also killed his mother and eventually himself.

Bloomberg, a long-time advocate of stricter firearms regulations, hailed the new record lows for both homicides and shootings in the Big Apple, saying that the figures meant New York was far safer than other major US cities.

"The number of murders this year will be lower than any time in recorded city history," Bloomberg said, hailing the work of the New York Police Department (NYPD) to stop crime in a city of 8.2 million people.

"It also reflects our commitment to doing everything possible to stop gun violence," he said.

A total of 414 homicides occurred in 2012, down from 515 last year, or about a 19 percent decrease, the mayor said at a graduation ceremony for new police recruits. That was the lowest figure since data collection began in 1963.

"The previous low in modern times was 471 murders back in 2009. So it's pretty clear we are going to shatter this record and shatter it by a lot," Bloomberg said. Murders are down 35 percent since he took office in 2002.

"With the decrease in murder, New York's murder rate has fallen to 3.8 homicides per 100,000 residents. New York City has a far lower murder rate than other major American cities," Bloomberg said.

"If we had had (Washington) DC's murder rate, more than 1,100 would be murdered this year," he noted. Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Detroit also have much higher homicide rates.

Chicago -- the main city in the Midwest with 2.7 million inhabitants -- saw its 500th murder of the year this week, but generally, homicide rates are down in America's major cities.

Washington, known as the "murder capital" of the United States in the 1990s, could also see a record low number of homicides in 2012, with fewer than 100 as compared with 474 in 1990.

Bloomberg, who took office in 2002, has followed the "zero tolerance" crime-fighting policies of his predecessor Rudy Giuliani, a no-nonsense former federal prosecutor under whom the city's murder rate fell significantly.

In 1990, four years before Giuliani took office, the city saw more than 2,245 murders -- meaning the number is now five times lower, according to police statistics.

The number of shootings in New York also fell to a record low 1,353 this year, down 8.5 percent from last year, said Bloomberg. The previous low was 1,420 in 2009.

"We're taking 8,000 weapons annually out of the hands of people we stop, 800 of them illegal handguns," police commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement.

Last week, Bloomberg announced that the city's prison population had fallen by a third from 2001 to 2011.

At the ceremony, the New York mayor again called for quick action on gun control in the wake of the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Previously, he has called the killings a "tipping point" in the national debate on guns.

"Newtown was not an isolated event," he said. "It is a national tragedy and it demands a national response."

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