Monday, October 17, 2005


The nation’s murder rate declined last year for the first time in four years, dropping to the lowest level in 40 years, while the number of rape cases increased slightly last year, the FBI reported yesterday.

Overall, the number of violent crimes, which include aggravated assaults and robberies, fell by 1.2 percent last year. Property crimes — burglaries, larceny/theft and car theft — dropped 1.1 percent in 2004, compared with 2003.

There were 391 fewer murders nationwide in 2004 than the year before. The total of 16,137 worked out to 5.5 murders for every 100,000 people, a decline of 3.3 percent from 2003 and the lowest rate since 1965, when it was 5.1 for every 100,000 people.

“The declines are relatively small compared to larger, steady drops in the 1990s, and the results are by no means the same across the country,” said Alfred Blumstein, a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

“We’re not seeing important national trends like the shrinking of crack markets in the 1990s,” Mr. Blumstein added. “These are responses to local situations, changes in local drug markets and shifts in gangs.”

Rape was the only one of the seven major crimes to show an increase, up 0.8 percent to 94,635 offenses, but the rate declined 0.2 percent to 32.2 per 100,000 people. The number of rapes is up nearly 5 percent since 2000.

Chicago, where the number of murders dipped by 150, and Washington, with a decline of 50, accounted for 51 percent of the net nationwide drop, Mr. Blumstein said. St. Louis registered an increase of 39.

Of 19 large cities with more than 100 murders apiece in 2003, 13 had declines in 2004 and six recorded increases.

The violent crime rates of Maryland and Virginia declined by about 3 percent during that period, the report shows. In Maryland, the number of murders dropped by less than 1 percent in 2004, with four fewer than the 525 in 2003. The number in Virginia dropped by 6 percent from 416 in 2003 to 391 in 2004.

“The best news is that there’s no national increase despite reasons — like economic conditions — why it could rise,” said James Alan Fox, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston.

Other reasons he cited were growing gang violence in some cities, local law-enforcement budget cuts and a shift of federal law-enforcement aid from local police hiring to homeland security.

Chicago officials and academics have credited that city’s murder rate decline to police targeting of gangs, drugs and guns.

The South — with 36 percent of the nation’s population but 43 percent of its murders — saw larger declines than any other region. The region’s murder rate declined 5 percent to 6.6 per 100,000.

Mr. Blumstein said that might have been driven by declines in Atlanta; Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, each with more than 100 murders in 2003, or “it might mean the South is becoming more like the rest of the country.”

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