By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Violent crime appears to have declined nationwide in 2007 for the first time in three years, with major cities showing the most significant drops, according to a preliminary FBI report released yesterday.
Bureau officials said the number of violent crimes reported -- offenses including homicide, robbery and assault -- dipped by 1.4 percent across the United States last year compared with 2006.
While cities with more than 1 million residents showed improvement, smaller urban communities including Baltimore and Atlanta apparently posted a rise in homicides in 2007, the preliminary data showed. Southern cities also experienced modest increases in violent crimes.
Property crime was also down, with the number of offenses falling 2.1 percent, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. Arsons, which are tracked separately, fell by 7 percent.
"One preliminary report does not make a trend, but the numbers are going where we want them to go," FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said.
The District does not participate in the FBI's data gathering, but the number of homicides here increased by 7 percent, to 181, last year. D.C. police last weekend conducted identity checks in the Trinidad neighborhood of Northeast Washington in an effort to crack down on a recent spate of gunplay that this year has produced more than 20 slayings.
Authorities in smaller cities increasingly are employing such "hot spot" strategies to target violent crime, including traffic stops and increased contact with gang members, representatives from law enforcement groups said.
The FBI report is based on information provided by more than 12,000 police agencies. A group of several thousand more agencies will share additional data by the end of the year, when the report becomes final.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said plenty of smaller communities with 100,000 residents or more are struggling with violent crime.
Just as many jurisdictions posted increases in homicides last year as reported declines, based on the FBI data, Wexler said. "It's a tale of two cities, if you will," he said. "There is an increased volatility out there we haven't seen for some time."
Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said yesterday that authorities had pledged to provide "targeted assistance" to communities that face "localized violent-crime challenges."