Violent crimes drop in U.S. for third straight year

No correlation with economy

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Violent crime nationwide dropped 5.5 percent in 2009, a third straight year of declines that have challenged a commonly held notion that crime rates increase during periods when the economy struggles.

The nation’s largest cities reported the biggest decreases in violent crime last year. Homicides were down more than 11 percent in cities with populations of more than 500,000, according to the FBI’s preliminary Uniformed Crime Report released Monday.

Other categories of violent crime — rape, robbery and assault — declined nationwide across the board compared with 2008. Property crimes, which include burglary, theft, auto theft and arson, also went down by 4.9 percent last year compared with 2008.

The declines were the largest in what has been a three-year trend of decreasing violent crime numbers that have come in the midst of a national economic recession.

David M. Kennedy, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said the notion that crime trends follow the economy is a myth.

“That is largely a notion people have that isn’t correct,” he said. “It simply isn’t that clear-cut. It simply isn’t true.”

Mr. Kennedy said it is nearly impossible to explain year-to-year fluctuations in the nation’s crime figures, but he said better policing methods aimed at preventing violent crime have something to do with it, as does a growing unwillingness in communities to tolerate violence.

Crime rates fell in all categories in all regions of the country. Overall, homicide declined 7.2 percent, rape dropped 3.1 percent, robbery declined 8.1 percent and assault was 4.2 percent lower than in 2008.

Among the 34 police agencies in cities with populations of at least 500,000, only Denver and the Texas cities of Houston, El Paso and Austin reported increases in overall violent crimes.

In Washington, D.C., declines outpaced the rest of the nation.

Violent crime in the District dropped 6.7 percent. The gains were bolstered by a decline in the 143 homicides recorded last year — a 23 percent decline from the 186 killings in 2008.

The most dramatic reduction in homicides among cities with more than 500,000 residents was reported in San Francisco, where the total dropped by more than half, from 98 killings in 2008 to 45 last year.

The only cities of 500,000 residents to report increases in homicides were Baltimore, which jumped slightly from 234 killings in 2008 to 238 last year; Detroit, which went from 323 to 361; and Oklahoma City, up from 57 to 65 last year.

Killings in Nashville, Tenn., rose slightly from 76 in 2008 to 77 last year and Milwaukee, which was up from 71 to 72 over the same period.

The figures, collected from more than 13,000 police agencies nationwide, will be finalized later this year.

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