updated 1/1/2008 6:11:54 PM ET 2008-01-01T23:11:54

New York City could look back on 2007 as the year it recorded the lowest number of homicides in more than 40 years, while the number of murders increased in Washington, D.C., after years of decline.

A preliminary tally of recorded homicides in New York was 494 as of midnight Monday compared to 596 for all of 2006, police said. But the number could change depending on if a 2007 crime is later reclassified, they said.

The tally for 2007 is the lowest number of killings since reliable record-keeping started in 1963.

Crime has plummeted since 1990 when homicides reached an all-time high of 2,224, making the city the murder capital of the U.S.

Experts have said that the decline in homicides is due to computerized tracking of crime trends and tactics, such as flooding high-crime areas with police officers.

The figure for 2007 could be changed if a death that occurred in 2007 was later determined to be a homicide. The cutoff period for that is Jan. 15, said police spokesman Paul J. Browne.

In the country's capital, however, homicides rose 7 percent in 2007 after years of decline, and police attributed the increase in part to gang fights and drugs.

Other gun crimes also up in D.C.
The city had recorded 181 killings as of late Monday, up from a 21-year low of 169 homicides in 2006. The number of killings had been dropping since 2002. Nonfatal shootings and other gun crimes also were up, according to preliminary police data.

Washington's homicide rate _ about 30 per 100,000 people _ remains higher than those of New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. But it is below the rates in Baltimore and Detroit.

The increase in violence comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments this year on whether the district's 31-year ban on handgun ownership violates the Constitution. The case could produce the most in-depth examination in 70 years of the right to "keep and bear arms," which is held dear by many Americans.

Citywide, about 77 percent of the year's homicide victims were killed by gunfire. More than 80 percent of the victims were black males.

Despite the increase in killings, 2007 marked the fourth consecutive year of fewer than 200 homicides in Washington. The number of killings also is far lower than the numbers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when more than 400 people were slain annually as crack cocaine-related violence ravaged the city.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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