Serious crime declined in Manassas last year, and reported crimes rose by less than 1 percent overall, continuing a relatively steady trend.

At the same time, the Manassas Police Department shifted its focus to concentrate less on traffic enforcement and more on the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, anthrax scares and preparations for future terrorist attacks, Chief John J. Skinner said.

Major crimes -- which include murder, rape and arson -- fell in every category and by 4 percent overall. The largest drop was in arson, which decreased by 20 percent. Reports of rape decreased 12 percent, and burglary 19 percent. Larceny continued to be the most common serious crime, making up about 72 percent of all serious crimes in 2002.

The city's population grew by about 400 residents last year, to about 35,900. At the same time, the crime rate -- the number of crimes per 1,000 residents -- fell by 5 percent, from 41 crimes per 1,000 residents in 2001 to 39 last year.

In all, Manassas recorded 5,565 crimes in 2002, just 10 more than in 2001. From 2000 to 2001, the increase was less than 2 percent, from 5,470 to 5,555 crimes.

Skinner said he is pleased that Manassas's rate has been relatively consistent in the past five years even as the region and nation have experienced a slight uptick. The reason, he said, may be the city's increased community policing efforts and more citizen involvement.

"On our neighborhood beats, we try to make ourselves as available to our residents as possible," he said. "We have also seen more interest from communities in forming neighborhood watches."

Skinner said a 22 percent drop in the number of traffic tickets issued in 2002 is a reflection of a shift in priorities. The aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and anthrax scares, as well as severe weather and training for emergency preparedness, took precedence over traffic enforcement, he said.

"We spent a tremendous amount of time in training, including forming a brand-new 20 person civil disturbance team in preparation for enhancing emergency preparedness," Skinner said.

The number of calls for service fell for the first time in five years. Manassas police received 55,591 calls in 2001 and 54,563 in 2002. Skinner said that may be an indication that population growth has leveled off.

"We're seeing a city reaching total build out in terms of dwelling units, businesses and thus our population," he said.

In addition, the number of charges against juveniles fell by 40 percent in 2002, from 255 to 152. Skinner said he thinks that could be attributed to curfew laws, an aging population and a new state restriction that prohibits 16- and 17-year-olds from driving more than two to a car after midnight.

The only significant increase came in simple assaults -- slapping, unlawful touching or slugging -- which rose 14 percent, from 324 to 369.