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Violent Crime Is Up For 2nd Straight Year
The increase was especially dramatic in many cities of 500,000 residents or more, the FBI report showed, including a 28 percent increase in Houston that appears attributable in part to an influx of residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Homicides in New Orleans, whose population was greatly reduced after the storm, plunged by more than 60 percent in the same time period.
The numbers are certain to increase pressure on the Bush administration, whose detractors say local police concerns have been slighted by the focus on homeland security and counterterrorism.
The Justice Department inspector general's office has reported sharp declines in the number of FBI agents and investigations dedicated to traditional crimes since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In addition, the International Association of Chiefs of Police says that law enforcement programs at the Justice Department have been cut by more than $2 billion since 2002 and that overall funding for such programs has been reduced to levels of a decade ago.
"We've been looking at some pretty discouraging numbers, and we've always been concerned that as funding decreases, crime rates will increase," said Gene Voegtlin, the association's legislative counsel.
James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston who has been critical of the Bush administration's crime-fighting strategies, said the overall rise in violent crime should be expected given dramatic cuts in assistance to local police and simultaneous increases in the population of males in their teens and 20s.
"We have many high-crime areas where gangs have made a comeback, where police resources are down and where whatever resources there are have been shifted to anti-terrorism activity," Fox said. "It's robbing Peter, and maybe even murdering Peter, to pay Paul."
Justice Department officials have repeatedly rejected such criticism, arguing that the causes and trajectory of the crime increase is still unclear. Nonetheless, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has launched a series of anti-drug and anti-gang initiatives at Justice, and he acknowledged at a crime conference in Boston last week that local police are struggling with "increased responsibilities" since Sept. 11, 2001.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said yesterday that the department's ongoing study of crime trends in 18 cities will help determine "what is causing this increase" and "which crime-fighting efforts are most effective."
"We are encouraged by the drop in property crime seen in most areas around the country, but we are again concerned about the increase in violent crime in some cities and towns," Roehrkasse said.