Low Murder Rate Brings New York Back to 1963

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It was a year of trauma for the nation, and of foreboding for New York City. In 1963, the year that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, New Yorkers were feeling strains in the urban fabric: Affluent families fled to the suburbs, job losses mounted among old-line manufacturers, and 548 people were killed.

As 2007 draws to a close, it seems very likely that there will be fewer than 500 killings in the city (as of Sunday evening, there had been 492) for the first time since reliable records started being kept.

That was 1963.

The body count that year reflected the beginnings of what was to be an alarming rise in the city’s murder rate through 1990. In that year, the city’s worst, there were 2,245 homicides and New York City was known as the murder capital of the nation.

In 1963, “the seeds of decay were clearly in the air,” said Jim Curran, a professor of law and police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who spent the year as a rookie in the New York Police Department and still recalls people crying on the street when Kennedy was killed. “People became less concerned about the rules, maybe even including the one that says, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’”

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