Sunday, September 25, 2005


The nation’s crime rate was unchanged last year, holding at the lowest levels since the government began surveying crime victims in 1973, the Justice Department reported yesterday.

Since 1993, violent crime as measured by victim surveys has fallen by 57 percent and property crime by 50 percent. That has included a 9 percent drop in violent crime from 2001-02 to 2003-04.

The 2004 violent-crime rate — assault, sexual assault and armed robbery — was 21.4 victims for every 1,000 people 12 and older. That amounts to about one violent crime victim for every 47 U.S. residents.

By comparison, there were 22.6 violent-crime victims per 1,000 people in 2003. The Bureau of Justice Statistics said the difference between the rates in 2003 and 2004 was statistically insignificant.

Murder is not counted because the bureau’s study is based on statements by crime victims. In a separate report based on preliminary police data, the FBI found a 3.6 percent decrease in murders between 2003 and 2004 — from 16,500 to 15,910. Chicago’s lower rate was largely responsible for the decrease.

The survey put the rate for property crimes of burglary, theft and motor-vehicle theft in 2004 at 161 for every 1,000 people, compared with 163 the year before.

Many explanations have been advanced for the decline in violent crime, including the record prison population of more than 2 million people, the addition of 100,000 police officers since the mid-1990s and even a deterrent effect that terrorism might have had on street crime.

The Justice Policy Institute, which advocates alternatives to incarceration, said the report offered good news and further reason to “begin investing in community-based policing and local organizations that succeed in increasing public safety.”

The National Crime Victimization Survey is based on annual interviews by Census Bureau personnel with about 150,000 people who are at least 12 years old. The FBI does a separate crime study based on reports that it receives from thousands of law-enforcement agencies nationwide.

Other highlights of the Justice Department report:

• Blacks, men (except in cases of sexual assaults) and young people were victimized most often.

• Nearly two-thirds of women knew their attackers, while men were just as likely to be attacked by strangers.

• In 2004, a little less than a quarter of all violent crimes were committed by an offender armed with a gun, knife or other weapon.

• The rates of rapes and robberies have dropped by nearly two-thirds since 1993.

• City dwellers were far more likely to be victims of property crimes (215 crimes per 1,000) than suburban or rural residents (143 and 134 per 1,000, respectively).

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