- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Violent and property crimes dipped in 2002 to their lowest levels since records started being compiled 30 years ago and have dropped more than 50 percent in the past decade, the Justice Department reported yesterday.

The annual survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics identified about 23 million crime victims last year, down slightly from the year before and far below the 44 million recorded when studies began in 1973.

The rate of violent crimes — rapes, robberies and assaults — was about 23 victims for every 1,000 U.S. residents 12 or older last year. That compares with 25 victims per 1,000 in 2001 and 50 in 1993.

For property crimes, such as burglary and car theft, the rate was 159 crimes per 1,000 last year, down from 167 the previous year and 319 in 1993.

The study examined property and violent crimes except murder, which is measured separately by the FBI. Preliminary FBI statistics for 2002 released in June, based on reports from police nationwide, reported a 0.8 percentage point rise in the murder rate since 2001.

The Justice Department survey, however, found continuing decreases in every major property and violent crime, crossing all household income, racial and ethnic lines. Crime is down in cities, suburbs and rural areas.

Attorney General John Ashcroft credited people for being more willing to report crimes and said the numbers are a tribute to the work of police, prosecutors and judges nationwide.

“But lower crime rates must not lead to complacency,” Mr. Ashcroft said. “We must continue our vigilance and renew our firm commitment to protect all Americans, bringing swift and certain justice to all those who would inflict pain and harm.”

Some criminologists say tougher prison sentences and more prisons are key factors, because they take more criminals off the streets longer.

The Justice Department reported last week that at the end of 2001, more than 5.6 million adults, one in every 37 U.S. adults, were either in state or federal prison or had done prison time.

Legal analysts say other factors also have helped drive down the crime rate, including a more mature, less violent illegal drug trade, and a drop in gang membership. Even so, the drop in crime surprises some.

“Everyone thought the numbers would bottom out and then go back up, but it hasn’t happened,” said James Lynch, law professor at the American University Center for Justice, Law and Society.

The Justice Department figures on nonfatal crimes for 2002 are based on interviews of a nationally representative sample of 76,050 U.S. residents 12 or older. The previously released FBI Uniform Crime Reports, which also showed an overall drop in crime in 2002, is based on crimes reported to state and local police nationwide.

Some highlights from the Justice Department report:

• From 2001 to 2002, the number of robberies fell 19 percent, from 630,690 to 512,490, and is down 63 percent from 1993 to 2002.

• Households with an annual income of $50,000 or more had larger drops in property crimes than those with lower incomes from 1993 to 2002. Property crimes have dropped 52 percent during that span in rural and suburban areas, and 48 percent in cities.

• Households with annual incomes of $7,500 or less were far more likely to be involved in violent as well as property crimes in 2002. For instance, there were about 52 burglaries per 1,000 households at that income level, compared with 32 per 1,000 for those earning $7,500 to $14,999.

• Men are more likely to be crime victims than women, blacks more likely than whites or Hispanics, and people younger than 24 more likely than those older.

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