Crime in U.S. dropped again in '99, FBI says

Sunday, October 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Crime in the United States fell again in 1999, the eighth consecutive yearly decline, with the murder rate dropping to its lowest level since 1966, according to an annual report by the FBI being released Sunday.

But experts cautioned that the decline may be nearing an end because murder rates in the nation's largest cities showed the smallest decrease in 1999. Those cities, with populations of 1 million or more, had led the increase in murder in the late 1980s, during the crack cocaine epidemic, and had also led the drop during the 1990s.

In fact, while cities of more than 1 million people had a decline of only 1.8 percent in murder last year, cities with populations of 500,000 to 1 million had a decrease of 2.1 percent. Cities with 250,000 to 500,000 people had a decrease of 6.8 percent, and cities with 100,000 to 250,000 people saw a decrease of 9.4 percent: the smaller the cities, the larger the decline. The national murder rate was 5.7 per 100,000.

"Big cities have become victims of their own success," said James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University. "They led the drop, and therefore they are reaching bottom first."

"They are harbingers of what we may see shortly, which is a national leveling off in crime trends," he said. "All good things must come to an end, and the great '90s crime drop may be just that, a '90s phenomenon. The millennium may be a new story."

The FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report, which is compiled from police arrest data forwarded to the agency, showed that violent crime and property crimes were each down 7 percent from 1998's rates.

The FBI measures violent crimes of murder, robbery, assault and rape and property crimes of burglary, auto theft, larceny and arson. The report does not include figures on drug crimes because they are considered to be victimless and are hard to measure.

The largest drop was recorded for burglary, which fell 10 percent. Burglary has been declining since 1980, as criminals have turned to quicker crimes like robbery, and people have installed more burglar alarms.

Crime rates continued a long-term pattern of large regional disparities, the report showed. The highest murder rate, for example, was in the South, with a rate of 6.9 per 100,000. The West had a rate of 5.5 per 100,000; the Midwest, 5.3 per 100,000; and the Northeast, 4.1 per 100,000. Southern states have tended to have the highest murder rates since the 19th century.