Serious, violent crime up 2.1%, first rise in 10 years

FBI figures for 2000 show climbs nationwide for all types of offenses


For the first time since 1991, serious and violent crime in the United States increased last year, the FBI reported yesterday.

The bureau's annual Uniform Crime Report found that murder, the crime that is best measured because it is least likely to go unreported, rose 2.5 percent nationwide over the figure for 2000.

At the same time, robberies climbed 3.7 percent, burglaries 2.9 percent, petty thefts 1.5 percent and motor vehicle thefts 5.7 percent.

Rape also increased by 0.3 percent, the report said, while aggravated assault dropped 0.5 percent.

Figures for these two crimes are considered the least reliable of the seven that go into the FBI's index because of problems with reporting them.

Overall, crime rose 2.1 percent across the nation, the report said.

Experts and law enforcement officials said the overall increase, after a decade of drops in the crime rate, appeared to reflect several factors: a faltering economy, cuts in welfare and anti-crime programs, fewer jobs available, more inmates returning home from prison, an increase in the teen-age population, and police resources diverted to anti-terrorism efforts.

In addition, the experts said, after 10 years of decreases, in which the crime rate dropped to its lowest level since the late 1960s, it would have been hard for it to keep falling.

"We all knew that the marked downward trend of crime in the '90s could not continue indefinitely," said Alfred Blumstein, a professor of statistics and criminology at Carnegie Mellon University.

"The crime rate really came down very far, and one would have hoped it was an indication of improvements in society, but that didn't happen. The economy is a big part of the story."

James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University, said: "The great crime drop of the 1990s is over. It was wishful thinking that it would continue forever. Crime is very resilient."

Regionally, there were sharp differences in overall crime last year. The rate rose 3 percent in the West, 1.1 percent in the Midwest and 0.3 percent in the South. In the Northeast, crime decreased 1.9 percent.

Four Eastern cities, including Baltimore, showed a drop in murders in 2001.

New York had the biggest decline, with 649 murders in 2001 compared with 673 in 2000, a decrease of 3.6 percent. Philadelphia had a decrease of 3.1 percent, Washington 2.9 percent and Baltimore 1.9 percent.

By contrast, in Las Vegas, murders rose 48 percent in 2001, to 133 from 90 in 2000, while in Phoenix the number jumped 37.5 percent, to 209 from 152 in 2000. San Antonio recorded a 17.6 rise in murders last year, to 100 from 85 in 2000, and St. Louis rose 19.4 percent, to 148 from 124 in 2000.

In Phoenix, Detective Tony Morales, a police spokesman, said much of the increase was caused by increased smuggling of drugs and illegal aliens on the border with Mexico. Criminals have learned how to circumvent efforts by federal law enforcement to crack down on illegal activity at the border, he said, "so our crime rate is going back up."

"Narcotics is the No. 1 motive in our homicides," Morales said. "We have instituted new programs to combat narcotics, but the numbers have started to creep back up anyway.

"Another thing that has tripled in the past few years is home invasion robberies, mostly Hispanics on Hispanics, and people are reluctant to call the police," Morales said. "So the real numbers are probably much higher."

The FBI report includes arrests reported by 17,000 local police agencies around the nation to the bureau.

One striking increase was the 3.7 percent jump in robberies, the first increase since 1991. Among the reasons was a sudden increase in bank robberies in many parts of the country.

Overall, robberies caused losses estimated at $532 billion in 2001, the report found. Bank robberies had the highest average loss, at $4,587 per offense.

The murder figures did not include the 3,047 deaths as a result of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The FBI published them in a separate section. If they had been included in the regular total of murders, they would have had a substantial impact on the murder rate, since there were a total of 15,980 other murders last year.

Criminologists have long tried to tease out the factors that caused the crime drop of the 1990s, but they said they cannot do so with great accuracy.

In the same way, it is next to impossible to quantify accurately the different variables causing crime to resurge.

One factor that can be measured, Fox said, is that the number of teen-agers is now increasing 1 percent a year, after a decline in the 1990s.

The late teens and early 20s are in the prime years for committing crime, statistics show.

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