Murders in New Jersey plunged by the biggest amount in decades in 2017, with the murder rate apparently reaching its lowest level in more than a half-century of record keeping, preliminary data shows.

Overall crime declined for the sixth straight year, according to 2017 data reported by local, county and state agencies to the New Jersey State Police through last week. However, the year-to-year drop was slower than it had been in recent years.

As of last week, the records show 294 murders were recorded.

The only years it was lower since the debut of the Uniform Crime Report were 1967, the first for the UCR, when the state had under 7 million residents, and 1999 and 2000, when it had around 8.4 million residents. New Jersey's population is now more than 9 million, so the murder rate is at its lowest level on record.

Statewide, according to the preliminary data, overall crime was down by nearly 3 percent in 2017.

Violent crime fell 10 percent, including a 22 percent decline in murders – which was the biggest percentage drop since 1976.

Gov. Phil Murphy said such numbers are good but that more can be accomplished in areas such as reducing gun violence.

“There have been significant positive trends in a lot of communities. It’s a good start, but we have a long way to go,” Murphy said.

Murders in NJ: '67 to '17

There were 84 fewer murders last year than in 2016, which also reflects the biggest drop since 1976. However, if two or more additional murders are reported late – which wouldn’t be unexpected, if trends from past years repeat – the decline will wind up being the biggest since 1983.

Most categories of crime were down, including a 16 percent drop in robberies. Motor vehicle thefts were an exception, up 2 percent, and the number of thefts stayed level.

“The numbers may be trending down, but we can’t be complacent, and we have to redouble efforts in the communities where the problems exist and work in a collaborative way to solve violence issues, addiction issues and to increase community policing,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

“Community policing, being in the streets, walking in each other’s shoes invariably is a central element to success in keeping that trend going the right direction,” Murphy said.

Murphy also wants to step up gun control efforts, although the state’s laws are already among the nation’s strictest. On Friday, he announced the state will rescind a rule change made last year that made it easier to qualify for a concealed-carry permit.

Crime rates often fall when the economy is growing. The number of jobs grew again last year, though by the lowest level since 2011.

Bail changes that allow high-risk defendants to be detained until trial may have also contributed. Eighteen percent of defendants – 8,043 of 44,319 – were held in jail without bail awaiting trial, having been assessed as a posing a significant risk to the community.

“I think some of it has to do with that,” said Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester. “But some of it has to do with our local departments getting more savvy in the way they’re working in communities, like community policing. Camden has good numbers, much better numbers than they had in the past.”

The number of murders in Camden last year dropped by half, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the statewide decline in homicides to its lowest total in 17 years.

“It’s good to see something moving in the right direction,” Sweeney said.

All the numbers are preliminary and will continue being updated as more reports are transmitted in the coming months.


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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com