Murders, rapes, felony assaults and burglaries in New York City are up slightly this year compared to the same period last year, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who is angling for more state aid from Albany — suggested his police force might be stretched too thin.
Bloomberg, who usually dismisses short-term increases as little more than noise in the data, insisted the city's crime rate was "still very low" but said the increases in some categories bothered him.
"It is worrisome," Bloomberg said Friday on his radio show.
The city recorded 103 murders so far this year, compared to 86 for the same period last year, or a 22 percent increase, according to the New York Police Department's CompStat program. Rape, felony assault and burglary also were up. Robbery was down.
The increases were just about average when considering figures over the past several years. The city recorded 111 murders in 2008 by March 25 of that year. The figure was 85 in 2007, and 117 in 2006.
Crime rate figures fluctuate wildly so it can be misleading to characterize a rise in any short period as a "spike" because the levels are likely to change.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly cautioned against interpreting the latest numbers as a trend. "It's not something that I think the public should be particularly concerned about," he said.
Bloomberg has been lobbying to get more money from the state budget now being negotiated, and suggested Friday that the crime figures might be related to a smaller police force.
"We have fewer police officers than we did before," he said. "More cops always helps."
The city's homicide rate reached an all-time high of 2,245 in 1990, making New York the murder capital of the nation.
Since then, the rate has plummeted. The decline has been partly attributed to the placement of most graduating police officers in higher-crime neighborhoods known as "impact zones," identified through CompStat.
Since Bloomberg and Kelly took over in 2002, the number of NYPD officers has declined and the crime rate continued to drop. Currently, about 34,000 officers are on the force. The figure was about 40,000 in 2002.
The city's budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 calls for a further reduction of about 1,300 officers, achieved through attrition rather than layoffs.
But Bloomberg also has a "contingency plan" if the state cuts funding by some $1 billion as Gov. David Paterson has proposed. Under that plan, the city would lay off 3,150 police officers, saving an estimated $182 million and returning NYPD operations to 1985 levels.
The "contingency plan" would reduce the force to a size comparable to eliminating the entire narcotics division, counterterrorism bureau, intelligence division and Staten Island precinct commands.
Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said any small increase in crime shouldn't cause hysteria. But lawmakers cannot put public safety on the backburner to deal with other civic issues.
"It's a mistake to show one uptick as a meltdown, but the vigilance issue is a problem," O'Donnell said. "We have to put public safety first. It can never fall out of the top of the list of what's important."