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Murders in New York City rose in 2019, defying long-term decline in crime rate

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York experienced a 7.8 percent jump in murders last year, though the number of homicides in the country’s largest city remained low on an historical basis as the overall major crime rate extended a decades-long drop, authorities said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: A New York Police Department (NYPD) officer secures the area around Times Square ahead of New Year's Eve celebrations in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., December 31, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky/File Photo

The number of murders rose in 2019 to 318, the most since 2016, the New York Police Department said in its annual crime statistics report. Robberies, felony assaults and shootings also rose modestly in 2019, while the number of rapes and subway crimes declined.

Officials said most of last year’s increase in murders and shootings was the result of statistical fluctuations, reflecting in part the reclassification of more than two dozen homicides, some of which occurred in other years.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio insisted that the downward trend in the city’s crime rate was irreversible.

“Not only are we going to sustain that progress, we’re going to build upon that progress, and we are never going back to the years when this city wasn’t safe,” he told more than 500 recruits at the city’s police academy.

The overall rate of major felony crimes dropped again in keeping with a long-term trend, slipping 0.9% last year to a record-low of about 95,500 incidents, the report said. Burglary and grand larceny accounted for more than half of the total.

Since 1990, major crimes have fallen 81.9% in a period that spanned the administrations of four mayors, both Republican and Democratic, including Michael Bloomberg, who switched from being a Republican to an independent during his three terms in office.

Despite last year’s jump, murders were still 85.9% below 1990 levels.

The declining crime rate and expectations that it will continue figured prominently in de Blasio’s decision nearly two years ago to close the troubled Rikers Island jail complex within 10 years.

Bucking the downward trend was a jump in hate crimes last year, led by a surge in anti-Semitic incidents, which rose 26%. About three-quarters of the incidents involved graffiti, usually painting swastikas on the walls of buildings and vehicles, officials said.

The number of reported rapes, which had soared by 24% in 2018, declined by 2.5% last year to 1,760. The NYPD had attributed the 2018 increase mostly to heightened awareness and a higher reporting rate inspired by the #MeToo movement. Since 1990, rapes were down by 43.7%.

Crime in the city’s subway system and on buses declined by 3.4% in 2019, after a modest increase a year earlier.

Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty