Rise in Violent Crime Has Slowed, With Many Cities Reporting Drops

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2007

A new report from a police research group suggests that a two-year surge in violent crime has slowed significantly, with many large cities reporting dramatic drops in murders and other violent offenses for the first six months of 2007.

At the same time, other large jurisdictions, including the District and Prince George's County, have continued to grapple with soaring numbers of homicides or other major crimes, according to the report from the Police Executive Research Forum.

"The picture is more complicated and mixed," said Chuck Wexler, the group's executive director. "It has slowed in some places but is continuing in others. There is a volatility out there that is pretty strong."

The 59-page report, which is scheduled to be publicly released next week, analyzes several years of statistics for homicide, robberies and aggravated assaults from 56 of the nation's largest jurisdictions. It also includes crime data from more than 100 other cities, suburbs and towns.

For the main jurisdictions, the report shows an overall decline in the number of homicides, robberies and aggravated assaults in the first six months of the year, when compared with the first half of 2006. Examples include a 13 percent drop in homicides in Boston; an 18 percent decrease in aggravated assaults in Detroit; and lower crime reports across all categories in Los Angeles, Houston, Denver, Minneapolis and other cities.

The downward trend amounts to good news for the Bush administration, which has come under sharp criticism from many Democrats and police chiefs for focusing less resources on local violent-crime problems. FBI reports show that violent crime increased for two years in a row, in 2005 and 2006, marking the first sustained rise in more than a decade.

The police research group emphasizes that the improvements are far from universal, however, and it points to the mid-Atlantic region as an area of particular concern. The report shows murders rising in Baltimore, Prince George's County and Washington, which this week surpassed last year's homicide total of 170.

But the report also shows that robberies and aggravated assaults dropped in the District, compared with those in the first half of 2006.

Such mixed results are common. In Orange County, Fla., a popular tourist destination that surrounds Orlando, homicides and robberies were up dramatically early this year but have since declined after aggressive anti-crime initiatives, according to local police.

"It's taken everything we know how to do to beat it down," said Sheriff Kevin Beary, who said that help and resources from the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and other federal agencies has been crucial. "Good hometown security is good homeland security. We need their assistance," he said.

One notable success story outlined in the report is that of Sacramento, where murders plunged from 35 in the first half of 2006 to 22 in the first six months of this year. The city saw drops in other violent-crime categories, as well.

Sgt. Matt Young, a spokesman for the Sacramento Police Department, said at least part of the decrease can be attributed to a concerted focus on juvenile-behavior problems, including school truancy.

The city has opened one "attendance center" to focus on students who skip school, and plans to open two more, Young said.

"What we found is that the vast majority of juveniles engaging in criminal behavior were at some point truant," Young said. "We've seen a lot of success in getting these kids back in school and back on track."

Previous reports from the police research group have generally mirrored crime trends documented by the FBI, which issues broader nationwide tallies of crime reports from more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies.

The Justice Department has scrambled in recent years to react to rising crime numbers, focusing particularly on gang violence and firearms violations. Newly confirmed Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said yesterday that, though violent crimes are often "best addressed by local authorities," the federal government can provide crucial resources and intelligence.

"We can succeed here, as we have in many of our efforts against organized crime, but only if we work together," Mukasey said in remarks at the National Drug Intelligence Center in Arlington.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company