U.S. Murder Rate at 33-Year Low


Monday, October 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI's report of a 7 percent drop in serious crimes reported to police in 1999 extended the nation's longest crime decline through its eighth year, but there are hints the gains may be about to slow down.

The FBI reported Sunday that the murder rate sunk to a 33-year low: 5.7 for every 100,000 residents, the lowest since 5.6 per 100,000 in 1966.

The overall violent crime rate reached to a 21-year low — 525 murders, rapes, robberies and assaults for every 100,000 residents. The last time the figure was lower — 498 in 1978 — came well before an epidemic of crack cocaine sent violent crime soaring in the mid-1980s.

But cities with more than a million residents showed the smallest decline in murder rate of any size community, down just 4 percent from 13.5 to 13.0 per 100,000. The largest, New York, even saw murders rise from 633 in 1998 to 671 in 1999.

``The big cities are reaching their limit'' in crime reduction, said Professor James Alan Fox of Northeastern University in Boston. The murder totals are considered the most reliable figures in the FBI report and a leading indicator of crime in general.

``The big cities were the first to go up in the 1980s, the first to come down in the 1990s,'' said Professor Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. ``Now, having the lowest murder rate decline suggests they'll be the first to stabilize. Murders and crime can't go down forever.''

Nationwide, the rate and the number of all seven major violent and property crimes declined, despite an increase in the U.S. population, the FBI reported.

The national total for the seven serious crimes reported to 17,000 police agencies for 1999 was 11,635,149, down 20 percent since 1990. Total reported crimes were down 10 percent in the West, 7 percent in the Northeast and Midwest and 5 percent in the South. The totals were down 7 percent in cites and rural areas and 8 percent in suburbs.

Among violent crimes, the population-adjusted rate for murder fell 8.5 percent; for robbery, 8.4 percent; for aggravated assault, 6.2 percent; and for rape, 4.3 percent.

Among property crimes, the rate for burglary fell 10 percent; for auto theft, 7.7 percent, and for larceny-theft, 5.7 percent.

The overall decline extended a trend begun in 1992 that is now nearly three times longer than the second-longest decline, the three years from 1982 through 1984. FBI records go back through 1960.

Attorney General Janet Reno said, ``American families are safer today than they have been in a generation.... But we cannot rest.'' She called for more effort to ensure that the 500,000 Americans to be released from prison this year end up in jobs rather than back behind bars.

President Clinton attributed crime declines to administration legislation giving local communities ``better tools ... including 100,000 more police for our streets, stronger gun laws and smart prevention.''

Republicans in Congress credited local efforts and a GOP-sponsored law they said had induced 27 states to impose longer prison terms in exchange for federal money to build prisons.

Academic experts credited both parties' anti-crime remedies but also factors beyond control of politicians, such as the aging of baby boomers past crime-prone years. They also cited the decline of crack cocaine and the violent gangs that sold it, an increase in community-based prevention programs, police targeting of illegal weapons and a better economy.

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On the Net: FBI's site: www.fbi.gov