414 Homicides in ’12 Is a Record Low for New York City


Published: December 28, 2012

Murders in New York have dropped to their lowest level in over 40 years, city officials announced on Friday, even as overall crimes increased slightly because of a rise in thefts — a phenomenon based solely on robberies of iPhones and other Apple devices.

There were 414 recorded homicides so far in 2012, compared with 515 for the same period in 2011, city officials said. That is a striking decline from murder totals in the low-2,000s that were common in the early 1990s, and is also below the record low: 471, set in 2009.

“The essence of civilization is that you can walk down the street without having to look over your shoulder,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said.

Mr. Bloomberg acclaimed the accomplishment during a graduation ceremony for more than 1,000 new police officers at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. He attributed the low murder rate to the department’s controversial practice of “stop, question and frisk,” in which people are stopped on the street and questioned by officers, and aggressive hot-spot policing, in which officers are deployed to areas with crime spikes. Shootings are also down for the year so far. The number of murders is the lowest since 1963, when improvements in the recording of data were made.

The Police Department said thefts of Apple products had risen by 3,890, which was more than the overall increase in “major crimes.”

In the last two decades, trumpeting declines in crime trends has become an annual end-of-the-year event, even when the numbers inched up.

But figures alone do not tell the whole story, and several homicides this year stood out as particularly disturbing, given the age of the victims and the manner of death. Detectives described the stabbing deaths of two children at the hands of their nanny inside the bathroom of their Manhattan apartment in October as among the most horrific crimes they could recall.

“I think those images get embedded in the minds of detectives more than other crime scenes,” said Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, the union that represents detectives, adding, “It certainly makes you rethink the things that you take for granted, which is the safety of children.”

So far this year, the police said, 20 children — ages 9 and younger — were murdered, up from 16 in 2011. Among the victims was a 4-year-old boy, Lloyd Morgan Jr., who was shot in the head on a Bronx playground during a basketball tournament.

There were also several anomalies in the 2012 homicide tally, including a serial killer who murdered three shopkeepers in Brooklyn.

Perhaps the most well-known murder put on the books in 2012 actually may have occurred in 1979. That is when Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy, disappeared as he walked to a bus stop in SoHo. For more than three decades, Etan was officially listed as “missing.” When an arrest was made this year and the suspect, Pedro Hernandez, was charged with murder, the haunting crime was added to the 2012 homicide tally.

This has been a leap year. And indeed, on Feb. 29, a Bronx teenager was fatally stabbed.

In one of several recent high-profile killings, a man was shot outside the Empire State Building by an ex-colleague.

But overall killings have dropped to such a low level that more New Yorkers now commit suicide than are the victims of homicides. About 475 New Yorkers kill themselves each year, according to the city’s health department.

Mr. Bloomberg praised Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, saying the 19 percent drop in homicides compared with 2011 was achieved despite a shrinking police force and an increasing population. Mr. Kelly said he believed that relatively new policing strategies, including adding more police officers dedicated to curbing domestic violence, and monitoring social media to thwart gang-related murders, were working.

“We’re preventing crimes before someone is killed and before someone else has to go to prison,” the commissioner said.

Six precincts recorded no murders as of Friday afternoon: The 7th on the Lower East Side; the 19th on the Upper East Side; the 112th in the Forest Hills and Rego Park neighborhoods of Queens; the 94th in Greenpoint, Brooklyn; the 76th in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; and Central Park, according to the police.

Of the 414 murders, 14 deaths from previous years were counted as homicides for the first time, like in the Patz case. In many of these cases, victims of long-ago shootings died of sepsis in hospitals, the police said.

Of the 400 murders in 2012, 223 were gunshot victims, 84 victims were stabbed to death, 43 died of blunt trauma and 11 died of asphyxiation. The majority of the 400 homicides occurred on a Saturday, followed by early Sunday morning. Most occurred at 2 a.m. People were more likely to be killed outside than in. Nearly 70 percent of the victims had prior criminal arrests, the police said.

Domestic-related homicides dropped to 68, from 94 in 2011.

The likelihood of being killed by a stranger was slight. The vast majority of the homicides, Mr. Kelly said, grew out of “disputes” between a victim and killer who knew each other.

The series of Apple-product thefts has been challenging the police for several years, but this is the first time they have been seen as significantly skewering the crime statistics. “If you just took away the jump in Apple, we’d be down for the year,” Mr. Bloomberg’s press secretary, Marc La Vorgna, said.

Mr. Kelly said the thefts of non-Apple devices had declined.