By Victoria Cavaliere
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of shootings in New York City has spiked by 13 percent so far this year, though the murder rate is on track to hit a 50-year low, a statistical paradox that experts said reflects quick medical response.
As of Sunday, some 507 people had been struck by bullets since Jan. 1 in New York City, up from 448 in the comparable period a year ago, according to data compiled by the New York City Police Department.
There has been a particular uptick in shootings over the past month, with 121 victims of gunfire over a 28-day period ending Sunday, compared with 86 for the same period last year, marking a 41 percent increase.
But homicides have continued to fall in the nation's largest city. There were 120 murders reported so far in 2014 compared with 140 a year earlier, a 15 percent decline, the data indicated. That puts the city on track to set a new low after posting a total of 333 murders last year, the fewest homicides recorded in citywide crime statistics dating back to 1963.
Police Commissioner William Bratton has said spikes and declines in crime rates are not unusual.
The declining homicide rate, despite an increase in shooting victims, reflects in part improved emergency medical response time, said Steven Messner, a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Albany.
"There continues to be better response times getting to the scene and getting people to the hospital so that shootings that previously would have ended in a fatality, won't," he said.
The New York City Fire Department, which responds to medical emergencies, initiated new response protocols in 2012 for CPR and cardiac arrest and made more ambulances available during peak periods, the agency said.
The new procedures resulted in an approximately 20-second drop in response times, to 5 minutes, 32 seconds in critical medical emergencies, the FDNY said.
New York long struggled with high crime rates, most notably in the early 1990s when more than 2,200 people were murdered in some years.
"The case of New York City is a remarkable one," Messner said. "With something like homicide or shootings, you can get bumps and spikes. But right now in New York, there's a low base rate, so it makes these bumps more noticeable," he said.
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Scott Malone and Eric Beech)