Fewer violent crimes Maintain momentum: Hard work needed to keep assaults, rapes, robberies on the decline.

April 19, 1997

THE STREETS of America are safer. So says the Justice Department, whose annual survey of violent crimes other than murder shows the lowest rate of rapes, robberies and assaults since 1973. Not only have the suburbs and rural areas experienced declines (15 and 11 percent, respectively), so have America's cities, which in 1995 saw a 10.7 percent decrease in those categories.

These statistics are not surprising. Cities have been reporting crime reductions for over a year. The most dramatic turnaround has occurred in New York City. Its dramatically lower crime rate ++ has provided police strategy lessons for city officials elsewhere. But, as the Justice Department survey shows, other urban communities, including Baltimore, have curbed violent crime, too.

The reasons vary. President Clinton, not surprisingly, attributes the largest drop in violent crime in 22 years to his 1994 bill that provides for 100,000 new community police officers, bans assault weapons and strengthens penalties for gang and drug violence.

But the initiatives cities have themselves taken deserve praise. Police are no longer waiting for crimes that need solving to occur. They are working harder to prevent criminal activity, and that is lowering crime rates.

Huge dividends, for example, are expected to come from the Baltimore City and Baltimore County police forces' investment in youth programs at their Police Athletic League rec centers. By reaching out to adolescents and involving them in activities that keep them off the street, the number of juveniles who commit crimes are reduced. Police can spend fewer hours solving crimes and more time working with youths. That positive cycle will be very important as the number of teen-agers in America increases over the next several years.

Police now know it helps to work with community groups and neighborhood residents to solve trash and vagrancy problems that create conditions leading to crime. That means cities must have large enough police forces to give officers time for such interaction. Cities also must increase their efforts to reduce drug abuse and intercede quickly in domestic disputes that typically have violent outcomes. The root causes of violent crime must be attacked to keep winning the war on criminal activity.

Pub Date: 4/19/97

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