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CRIME statistics show Oklahoma bucking murder trend


TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A sharp drop in Oklahoma's murder rate last year bucked a national trend and came despite slight increases in other violent crimes.

Newly released FBI statistics show a 1.1 percent nationwide decline in murders in 2000. That compares with a 21.6 percent decrease in Oklahoma, preliminary statistics from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation show.

The state's 181 murders in 2000 were the fewest since 1976 when there were 177 slayings, the OSBI reported.

But preliminary figures from the FBI show a decade of dropping crime rates may be leveling off. Nationwide, robberies declined 0.7 percent. Forcible rape increased 0.7 percent and aggravated assault rose 0.4 percent.

Slight increases in assault and auto theft in Tulsa likely reflect a stabilizing in crime rates after the declines of the 1990s, said Deputy Police Chief Dave Been.

``We'd love to see it just keep going down, but we knew it couldn't last forever,'' he said.

Robberies decreased in Oklahoma by 6 percent in 2000, but the number of rapes rose 3.1 percent and aggravated assault was up 2.2 percent, the OSBI's preliminary figures show. A full uniform crime report will be made public this summer.

Crime rates tend to reflect the health of the economy and the age of the population, said Charles Edgley, head of the Oklahoma State University sociology department. Rates tend to go down as a population ages.

``And if the economy is cooling off, as many people claim it is, then we may expect crime rates to go up,'' Edgley said.

That's what Oklahoma City Police Lt. Jeff Pierce suspects is at work in the city's 32 percent murder decline. There were 56 murders in 1999 and 38 last year.

``I think the good economy plays a big part in it. With more people working, they're not out trying to shoot and stab each other and trying to steal from each other,'' he said.

The FBI statistics show Oklahoma City saw smaller declines in other violent crimes, including rape, robbery and assault.

Tulsa's murder rate dropped 19.5 percent, but rapes and aggravated assaults increased.

Been said the 2.9 percent increase in rapes may actually reflect efforts to encourage more victims of rape to report the crime.

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