By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
The number of violent crimes reported nationwide appears to have fallen modestly in the first half of 2007, signaling the first notable decline in violence in two years, the FBI said yesterday.
Violent crimes including homicides, robberies and assaults fell 1.8 percent in January to June of last year compared with the same period in 2006, according to the preliminary FBI statistics.
The largest declines were in the Northeast and in cities with more than 250,000 residents, while crime in rural areas and cities with fewer than 25,000 residents increased 1.1 percent. The number of homicides in suburbs rose by 5 percent.
If the pattern holds true for all of 2007, the overall drop would end a two-year increase in violent crime that provoked criticism of the Bush administration. Democratic lawmakers and police groups seized on the increase to highlight cuts in resources dedicated to law enforcement.
The new data show that property crimes also fell by 2.6 percent, while arson -- which is tallied separately -- plunged nearly 10 percent. But the report does not include absolute numbers, making it impossible to determine whether the volume of crime has returned to the levels that preceded the recent increase.
It is also unclear whether the downward trend will hold for all of 2007. For example, the crime trend was flat for the first half of 2005, but soared later in the year.
"The report suggests that violent crime remains near historic low levels," Justice Department spokesman Peter A. Carr said in a statement, while noting that some communities "continue to face violent crime challenges."
FBI officials cautioned that the six-month Uniform Crime Report is based on preliminary data from about 12,000 police agencies. Full numbers for all of 2007, which will include data from a much larger group of police agencies, will be released later this year.
Criminologists and law enforcement experts have cited several reasons for crime increases in 2005 and 2006, including a surge in juvenile violence and an overall shift in resources from traditional crime-fighting to homeland security programs.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which analyzes crime trends, said some larger jurisdictions, such as the District, Baltimore and Philadelphia, are still struggling to reverse a rise in killings. Other large cities, such as Boston and Los Angeles, have fared better by enacting far-reaching crime-prevention programs, he said.
"It's clear that reversing these trends takes a lot of work and a real focus on the problem," Wexler said.
The FBI report did not separate out data for the District, which has reported a 7 percent spike in homicides in 2007, part of an overall surge in gun violence.