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New York Streets Safer In 2001

The most violent year in New York City history was also one of the safest in which to walk the streets.

In the same year in which nearly 3,000 people were killed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the number of more ordinary homicides was down, remaining at levels not seen since the 1960s.

In fact, violent crime in New York declined across the board in 2001, extending a decade-long drop.

"We did far better than anybody imagined," said outgoing Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.

Criminologists cite more effective police work, the waning of the drug trade, lower unemployment, and more New Yorkers getting involved in their neighborhoods, whether on neighborhood boards or crime watches.

In the two weeks after Sept. 11, reported crime dropped dramatically, almost 30 percent, in what was variously attributed to a higher police presence and a desire by many people to stay close to their homes and their families. But crime soon rebounded.

The death toll at the trade center is higher than the number of murders in New York's worst year, 1990, when 2,262 people were killed.

The 3,000 or so trade center victims will not be counted by the police in the city's homicide rate. Kerik said he sees the dead as victims of an act of war. The Police Department did not count the six people who died in the 1993 bombing of the trade center either.

The FBI said that those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks will be counted as homicide victims in its annual crime report, but a footnote will be attached. The FBI also used an asterisk to explain the 168 deaths in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

In the latest New York statistics, released on Dec. 17, violent crime overall was down 12.4 percent from the same 11½-month period last year. All categories of violent crime measured by the department — murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and auto theft — showed declines, ranging from 5 percent for murder to 16 percent for auto theft.

As of Dec. 16, there were 617 murders in the city, compared with 651 during the same period last year. The total for all of 2000 was 672.

Murders in New York dropped steadily during most of the 1990s, reaching a low of 629 in 1998 — a figure not seen since the 1960s.

According to FBI statistics, violent crime fell 4 percent in the Northeast for the first six months of the year. Year-end figures have not been released.

The drop in New York's crime rate is considered one of the major accomplishments of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who leaves office at the end of the month after eight years.

But Kerik warned that in the post-Sept. 11 world, crime reduction, the Police Department's top goal for a decade, will probably have to share priority with anti-terrorism efforts.

With the city still on high alert, police are watching tunnels, bridges and other landmarks, and working with the FBI and immigration officials to question people in connection with the Sept11 attacks.

Rutgers University criminologist George L. Kelling attributed the decline in part to police cracking down on petty offenses such as turnstile-jumping and shoplifting.

"The policing did significantly and consistently lead to declines in crime," he said. "We estimated that over 60,000 violent crimes were prevented during the period of 1989 to 1998."

He also credited the 1994 creation of a computer system that tracks crime by precinct and holds precinct commanders accountable for increases.

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