Violent, property crimes down despite economy

The number of violent and property crimes reported continued to drop last year despite significant declines in the nation’s economy, according to a Justice Department report Wednesday, which put the numbers at their lowest levels since the survey began in 1973.

In its annual National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in the Office of Justice Programs said the violent crime rate declined from 19.3 to 17.1 victimizations per 1,000 persons during 2009, while the property crime rate fell during 2009 from 134.7 to 127.4 crimes per 1,000 households.

In what has been described as the government’s most comprehensive crime survey, which confirmed an earlier report by the FBI, the survey estimated that violent crime dropped by 11.2 percent and property crimes 5.5 percent from their levels in 2008.

James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston, noted that the report parallels the findings last month of the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report, which showed a 5.3 percent drop in reports to police of violent crimes last year and a 4.6 percent decline in reported property crimes.

The NCVS survey interviewed more than 135,000 U.S. residents, capturing not only crimes reported to the police but also those that went unreported. Studies show more than half of crimes are never reported to the police agencies.

Some analysts had expected crimes increase in 2009 because of tough economic times, but Mr. Fox said the link between the economy and crime is largely a myth.

“People don’t go out and rob a bank because they’ve lost their job,” he said. “The decision to pursue a life of crime is made independently of the economy.”

But Mr. Fox said an indirect connection between the economy and crime does exist in some cases, adding that when the economy lags, fewer resources are available for police budgets and other crime-prevention programs, which can have an impact on crime rates, particularly property offenses.

According to the NCVS report, violent crime decreases continued a longer-run decline from 51.2 victimizations per 1,000 persons in 1994. It also said the drop in property crimes, primarily as a result of a decrease in theft, continued a longer-term trend of declining rates from 553.6 crimes per 1,000 households in 1975.

In 2009, the report said, an estimated 4.3 million violent crimes — rapes or sexual assaults, robberies, aggravated assaults and simple assaults — occurred, as well as an estimated 15.6 million property crimes, including burglaries, motor vehicle thefts and household thefts, and 133,000 personal thefts — picked pockets and snatched purses. These offenses, the report said, included both crimes reported and unreported to police.

The rate of every major violent and property crime measured by the BJS fell between 2000 and 2009, the report said, adding that the overall violent crime rate fell 39 percent and the property crime rate declined by 29 percent during the past 10 years.

Between 2000 and 2009, it said, the rate of firearm violence declined from 2.4 incidents per 1,000 persons age 12 or older to 1.4 per 1,000 persons. Offenders used firearms in 8 percent of all violent crimes in 2009.

In 2009, according to the report, men were slightly more likely than women to be victims of violent crime. Women were more likely than men to be victimized by someone they knew. Seventy percent of all violent crimes against women were committed by someone known to the victim — an intimate, family member, friend or acquaintance — compared with 45 percent of violence against men.

Twenty-six percent of the nonfatal violence against women was committed by an intimate, including current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, compared with 5 percent of the violence against men.

According to the report, nearly half of all violent crimes and about 40 percent of all property crimes were reported to police in 2009. Of the violent crimes, robbery (68 percent) and aggravated assault (58 percent) were most reported. Fifty-five percent of the rapes or sexual assaults and 42 percent of simple assaults were reported to the police.

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