Crime increased at an estimated 10 percent rate in the District of Columbia during 1979, according to preliminary crime statistics released yesterday by D.C. police officials.

Police cited a sharp increase in reported burglaries and larcenies and the first-time inclusion of arson figures in crime statistics as major causes for the increase. Bank robbies and murders in 1979 decreased in the number from the year before.

Assistant Police Chief Charles Rinaldi said inflation was a factor in the sharp increase in burglary and larceny cases.

"More and more elderly citizens are finding it hard to make it," Rinaldi said. "We are finding that they are being caught taking food, for example. That doesn't mean they go to jail, but it does mean that they are a crime statistic.

According to police figures, 12,497 burglaries and 25,704 larcenies were committed in 1978. While police said 1979 figures had not been totaled, they expect them to be well above 10 percent over the 1978 numbers.

Police cited arson as another reason that overall crime in the city had increased by 10 percent in 1979. They recorded 326 cases during 1979. Before last year, arson statistics were not recorded because such cases were not included in the crime index.

Other early figures released yesterday showed that murders decreased from 197 in 1978 to 189, and bank robbies fell from 90 to 61.

The first murder statistic of 1980 was recorded early yesterday. A Southeast Washington man died after being shot in the temple with a revolver during an argument outside a restaurant in Northeast Washington.

Police identified the man as Richard L. Washington, 38, of 310 K St. SE. He died shortly after midnight at Capitol Hill Hospital.

Police arrested two men after the incident and charged them with homicide. They were identified as Robert L. Grant, 44, of 2109 Maryland Ave. NE and James L. Hannon, 21, of 2100 Maryland Ave. NE.