New York City recorded a double-digit increase in murders during 2010, with more than half the victims shot to death by someone they knew, likely related to drugs, according to preliminary figures from the police department Monday.
As of Dec. 31, there were 532 murders, up 13 percent from 2009. Rape, robbery and felony assault were all also up, but total crime was down 2 percent.
New York Police Department officials say the numbers, though a concern, aren't overly alarming when put in the context of dramatic crime-fighting gains since 1990. The city had a record 2,245 homicides that year.
The 2010 murder figure is still the fourth lowest since the department began keeping comparable records in 1962. The lowest was last year at 471, followed by 496 in 2007 and 522 in 2008.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said repeatedly that one crime is too many and while he is proud of overall decline during his years in charge, there is still much work to be done.
Among the murder victims, 92 percent were minorities and 83 percent were male. More than half the victims and killers had some type of drug background, and 62 percent were fatal shootings, all occurring mostly outside of Manhattan, according to department figures.
Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said crime must concern every citizen — even if isn't in their backyard.
"Citywide stats can be misleading. If you go into the heart of the hub of criminal activity, it's still extremely dangerous, and the residents there feel that, know that," he said.
"If you're an African-American, male teenager in Brooklyn north or the Bronx, you're at much higher risk than other people."
Large parts of the city were never very dangerous, O'Donnell said, and they remain safe. But violent crime has settled in some communities, and that's the real concern.
One strategy the nation's largest police department has relied on in recent years is to assign hundreds of rookie officers to neighborhoods where crime has crept up. Recent budget cuts have drastically reduced those recruit numbers and the overall size of the force, to roughly 34,800 officers from a high of more than 40,000 in 2002.
"One way to work through it is to focus resources as precisely as possible where we're seeing victims of violence, including homicide," NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.
The department figures released Monday show that 10 arson victims were among those killed; in 2009, there was only one. Rapes are up 14 percent and robbery is also up 4 percent from 2009.
Data on misdemeanor offenses wasn't yet available for 2010, though the department recently released a decade's worth after claims officers were downgrading crimes, and a lawsuit by the New York Times over the data.