NEW YORK • New York's murder rate has jumped more than 10 per cent in the past year, forcing the mayor on the defensive over any suggestion America's largest city is returning to its dark days.
Official statistics released by the police department show 193 murders in New York over the last 12 months compared with 174 in the previous year, an increase of 10.9 per cent.
Shooting incidents are up 2.7 per cent to 651 over the year ending July 26 compared with 634 for the previous 12 months.
Rapes are also up over the same period from 731 to 775.
A police spokesman said that overall crime is down 5.3 per cent in the city, following last year's record low.
Asked about the increased murder rate and what he would say to some who believe the city is going downhill, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters on Tuesday: "Look at the facts and stop the hysteria. We do, did, have an uptick in murders, there's no question about it."
"I believe we are going to turn that around," he said, hours after a pregnant 19-year-old was shot five times and her unborn baby killed in Brooklyn as suspected gang members opened fire on a crowd.
Last year marked the lowest number of murders in New York in half a century, a fact which Mr de Blasio stressed.
"A small number of additional murders looms large percentage wise," he admitted.
A surge in shootings in May prompted concern among police officials, who accelerated an annual anti-violence initiative that included putting more of the city's 34,500 police officers on weekend patrols in crime- plagued neighbourhoods.
They are also focusing intently on people and groups known to drive the violence, The New York Times reported.
An increase in violent crime in June saw hundreds of police officers ordered off desks and back onto the streets.
Mr de Blasio said that the police were doing "an extraordinary job" and that the extra deployments had already brought down shootings, adding that he expected the murder rate to soon decline too.
Despite an overall rise in shootings over the last 12 months, the number fell 11.4 per cent year on year over the last 28 days, according to police statistics.
Rising crime - particularly gang-related shootings - is a sensitive subject in the city of 8.4 million where rates fell steadily under previous mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudolph Giuliani.
Police Commissioner William Bratton said on Tuesday that as the nation moved to reform the criminal justice system, righting wrongs from the past, prison still remained a prime option for those who took part in extreme violence.
"We probably did over-incarcerate too many people," Mr Bratton said. But those committed to "a life of violence should not be diverted into treatment programmes or have their records sealed," he said.
"There are certain people, unfortunately, in our society, that we need to put in jail," Mr Bratton added. "That's where they belong, that's where they need to be, to keep the rest of us safe from them."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES