NYPD officers fired their weapons in fewer "adversarial" situations last year than 2012 and killed eight people, matching the department's lowest death toll since modern record-keeping began in 1971, according to the latest department statistics.

In its firearms discharge report for 2013, the NYPD said officers were involved in 40 hostile situations involving the use of their firearms, down 11 percent from 2012 when cops killed 16 people. When officers fired against an adversary in 2013 it was almost always against an armed suspect, according to the report.

The statistics, part of a steady downward trend of NYPD shootings, come as the department has faced withering criticism about the use of force after a grand jury declined to indict an officer in the apparent chokehold death of Eric Garner.

In 2013 officers fired a total of 248 shots, the lowest number in 42 years of record keeping. The NYPD reported a high of 2,510 shots fired in 1972.

The 2013 toll of eight persons killed by police gunfire in 2013 -- six black and two Hispanic -- also ties the lowest number of deaths reached in 2010, the data showed. In 1971 cops shot and killed 93 people, according to the department. One policing expert said changes in police firearms over the years -- the current 9 mm handgun requires a heavier trigger pull than earlier revolvers -- as well as relentless firearms training are responsible for the fewer shootings.

"They have been hammering firearms control into the cops heads since I was a rookie cop in 1992," said retired detective sergeant Joseph Giacalone, who is a police training consultant. "They have made every effort to cut down on deadly force."

In 80 percent of the shootings last year cops went up against suspects who used or threatened to use firearms, knifes, blunt instruments and even motor vehicles against them, the report noted. Three officers were shot and injured but none were killed by suspects, police data showed. The last time an officer was shot dead was Det. Peter Figoski, of West Babylon, in 2011.

Robert Gangi, director of Police Reform Organizing Project, a nonprofit advocacy group, acknowledged that the NYPD appears to be doing a better job on firearms training. But he said not all cases of alleged police brutality involved shootings.

Garner's death last July from an apparent police choke hold is the kind of situation that wouldn't make it into the firearms report, Gangi said.

"Our main criticism is the day-to-day abuse of police and racial bias," Gangi said.