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Jamaica murder rate steady while overall crime declines

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Despite a rash of murders late in the year, South Jamaica's 113th Precinct registered the same number of homicides in 2004 as the year before and recorded a decline in overall crime, according to year-end statistics recently released by the Police Department.While the crime rate dropped more than 4 percent from 2,294 incidents to 2,198, the precinct finished the year with 17 murders, the same level as in 2003.Police and community leaders said the majority of the killings appeared to have occurred for specific reasons and between people who knew each other, such as family members, providing as least some measure of reassurance to residents."Murder is awful anyway you put it," said Vivian McMillian, president of the precinct's community council. "But it's better than random murders."In the last murder of the year, a 35-year-old Springfield Gardens mother was shot and killed Dec. 27 inside her apartment. Her 19-year-old male neighbor, a suspect in the case, was later found on the street dead, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.The shooting followed a spate of five homicides over four weeks in the precinct, which until that point had seen killings down 21 percent for the year. A 31-year-old man was shot as he sat in the passenger seat of a car traveling near the intersection of Merrick Boulevard and Springfield Boulevard earlier in December. A 23-year-old man had already been murdered on a South Jamaica street three days earlier. The 23-year-old's death followed the shooting of a 32-year-old paraplegic rapper three days before outside his Springfield Gardens home in his car while waiting for a tow truck.In addition, a 36-year-old former convict was shot the day before Thanksgiving in a South Jamaica apartment. And a 31-year-old man was killed a week earlier in a car outside his South Jamaica home.Deputy Inspector Edward Mullen, the commander of the 113th Precinct, said the killings had not been retaliatory in nature and described their frequency during the period as a "series of unfortunate events."Most of the murders in 2004 in Community Board 13, which covers the area, involved people who knew each other, and only a handful were tied to drugs, said District Manager Yvonne Reddick. She said the problem was too many guns in the area and she worried both about the safety of residents and the reputation of the community."It stigmatizes our community," she said. "These are hardworking, middle-class communities."While the number of murders plateaued last year, rape reports increased more than 18 percent, from 38 to 45. Mullen said the rise may indicate a greater awareness of the resources available for victims and the need to come forward rather than more incidents having taken place. He said many of the complaints appeared to have been acquaintance rapes, with no active pattern in the precinct. When they did receive reports, they pursued the cases, the commander said."The sex crimes unit has done a phenomenal job," Mullen said.However, Michele Vigeant, the director of sexual assault and clinical services for the non-profit advocacy group Safe Horizon, said only one out of three rapes is reported."I don't think there's a clear answer to that," she said of the rise in rape reports.McMillian said residents had not complained to her about rapes, but said she would broach the matter at the next council meeting Jan. 17. McMillian did say, however, that the community had complained repeatedly about area prostitution. She attributed the problem to the sluggish economy and to residents of nearby shelters."You can take them out of one area, but they go to another," she said of the alleged prostitutes.Rape was the only crime to increase out of the seven major categories - murder, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and grand larceny auto are the others - tracked by the Police Department for the overall crime statistic. But murders are perhaps the most heavily watched number."We want people to know Jamaica is safe," Reddick said.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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