Murders, violent crime down during first half of year |

Murders, violent crime down during first half of year

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Murders in the United States dropped by nearly 6 percent in the first half of the year after rising for four straight years, the FBI reported Monday. Almost all other crimes declined, too.

Overall, violent crime was down 2 percent in the first six months of the year compared with the same period of 2003, according to preliminary figures provided to the FBI by more than 10,700 state and local police agencies. Violent crime includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

Property crimes – burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft – also declined about 2 percent, and arsons fell by nearly 7 percent. The only crime that increased was rape, which was up 1.4 percent nationwide and 6.5 percent in cities with populations of 1 million or more.

Experts aren’t sure why crime is falling. James Lynch, professor at American University’s Department of Justice, Law and Society, said it could be because of increased focus on homeland security.

“You’re after terrorists, but you’re picking up other things,” Lynch said. “That’s the only thing I can think of because the economy certainly isn’t robust.”

James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University, said while the news overall is good, it’s too early to know if the recent trend for murders has been reversed since the latest report only covers the first six months of 2004. He said killings tend to spike during the months when young people are out of school, so they could be higher in the second half of the year.

The latest FBI report does not include raw totals for categories of crimes, only percentages of increase or decrease compared with the first half of 2003. The final report for all of 2004 will be released next fall.

Based on last year’s figures, though, it can be estimated that there were about 400-500 fewer murders in the first half of the year.

The drop was seen in each region of the country, with the South seeing the biggest decline, 8.3 percent. It was even more pronounced in cities with more than 1 million residents – 8.7 percent.

There was a particularly steep decline in Chicago, which reported 215 murders in the first half of the year compared with 287 a year earlier. Phoenix, New Orleans and New York City also had significant declines.

Chicago police spokesman Pat Camden said the department has been focused on fighting gangs, guns and drugs for more than a year. He said police have put cameras in known drug areas, beefed up patrols after gang shootings to prevent retaliatory violence and strictly enforced the city’s handgun ban, collecting more than 10,000 weapons a year.

“As for a specific reason it’s going down, if we knew that we’d bottle it and sell it,” Camden said.

Violent crime has been falling for years but the number of murders has inched up after reaching a low of about 15,500 in 1999. The number crept up to more than 16,500 in 2003, or almost six murders for every 100,000 U.S. residents.

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