Violent Crime, a Sticky Issue for White House, Shows Steeper Rise

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Violent crime in the United States rose more than previously believed in 2006, continuing the most significant increase in more than a decade, according to an FBI report released yesterday.

The FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program found that robberies surged by 7.2 percent and homicides rose 1.8 percent from 2005 to 2006. Violent crime overall rose 1.9 percent, substantially more than an increase of 1.3 percent estimated in a preliminary FBI report in June.

The jump was the second in two years, following a 2.3 percent rise in 2005. Taken together, the two years represent the first steady increase in violent crime since 1993, FBI records show.

The uptick presents a significant political challenge for the Bush administration, which has faced growing criticism from congressional Democrats, big-city mayors and police chiefs for presiding over cuts in federal assistance to local law enforcement agencies over the past six years.

The findings also come as the administration seeks confirmation of former federal judge Michael B. Mukasey to replace Alberto R. Gonzales, who resigned as attorney general earlier this month.

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, which studies crime trends, said the FBI report shows "a significant departure from the previous 10 years of fairly flat or declining crime numbers."

"What it underscores is what a number of communities have been seeing firsthand, and that is a spike in street-level violent crime," Wexler said. "For some cities, crime is back as a significant issue."

In addition to the overall number of violent-crime reports, the violent crime rate rose by about 1 percent, the FBI said. The rate measures the number of reported crimes based on population.

Not all types of violent crime showed an increase. The number of forcible rapes, which has been declining for years, dropped again by 2 percent in 2006, and the number of aggravated assaults edged down slightly.

Car theft and other property crimes dropped 1.9 percent, continuing a four-year decline. Burglary was the only property offense that increased; it was up by 1.3 percent.

The FBI report includes data broken down by locality, but it does not compare those results with previous years. In the District of Columbia, the city's police department reported in June that violent crime had jumped 9 percent in 2006.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said in a statement that while "violent crime remains a challenge for some communities," there is also "encouraging news" in the report. He said the overall crime rate -- a combination of violent and property crimes -- "was the lowest crime rate measured by the UCR in more than 30 years."

Roehrkasse said the Justice Department has introduced or strengthened several anti-crime initiatives this year and is seeking $200 million to help support violent-crime task forces for fiscal 2008.

Gonzales unveiled an anti-crime package in June that would set new minimum sentences, establish stronger penalties for firearms violations and broaden conspiracy laws to allow easier prosecution of violent gang members. The proposal has stalled in Congress.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company