For the tenth year in a row, crime in the Elm City is on the decline.

The city crime rate dropped by 3 percent in 2002, according to the Uniform Crime Report prepared for the FBI.

New Haven closed the year with nine murders — a decline of 55 percent from 2001, in which New Haven witnessed 20 slayings. Both robbery and aggravated assault witnessed declines of 18 and 11 percent respectively in 2002, while burglary increased 13 percent and rape increased 16 percent.

Crime in the city has decreased by 48 percent over the past decade.

Richard Epstein, Chairman of the New Haven Board of Police Commissioners, attributed the decline in crime over the past decade to the effectiveness of New Haven’s community policing program, utilized by the New Haven Police Department since 1990.

Since then, the overall crime rate in New Haven has dropped by 57 percent.

“We’re at the forefront,” Epstein said. “New Haven sets the example for the entire nation in community policing.”

Community policing involves the use of substations within neighborhoods of a city. Police are assigned to the substations and are responsible for policing the area surrounding their substations.

“It takes the role of policing from more than just enforcement into the realm of social work,” Epstein said. “It’s the opportunity for police officers to get to know the neighborhood.”

Epstein said such knowledge of particular neighborhoods allows officers to more easily detect potential trouble-makers and avert crime before it happens.

City spokesman Jim Foye also attributed the decreasing crime trend to community policing.

“It really comes down to community policing — [the officers] know where the bad guys are,” Foye said. “It makes their job easier.”

Foye also cited an increase in police officers as a driving reason behind the decrease in crime over the past decade.

However, officials said they worry that cuts in New Haven’s budget spurred by the state budget crisis could jeopardize the trend.

Foye said about half of the city’s funding comes from the state and that cuts in the state budget will lead to reductions in probation officers, prosecutors and other officers of the court.

“They are going to cut some probation officers,” Foye said. “If you have less probation officers, they have to deal with more cases.”

Foye also said the budget cuts will make crime fighting more difficult for the NHPD, as some officers are encouraged to take early retirement.

“The police officers will still be out there, but they realize it’s going to be a tougher job,” Foye said. “It’s inevitable that something is going to slip through the cracks, and that’s pretty scary.”