Homicide and gun violence rise in '05

Justice Department says data end a decade of decline

September 11, 2006|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The rates of homicide and firearm violence jumped upward in 2005, ending a decade of decline, according to a new U.S. Justice Department report that reinforces recent warnings by law enforcement officials.

The National Crime Victimization Survey, released yesterday, found that nationwide, killings increased 4.8 percent, from 16,140 in 2004 to 16,910 last year. The biggest increases were reported in the Midwest and the South.

Experts said these increases buttress reports from the FBI and many mayors and police chiefs that violent crime is beginning to rise after a long decline. Bush administration officials expressed concern but stressed that it was too soon to tell whether a new upward trend in violence had begun.

In a statement that accompanied the report, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty noted that overall crime data for 2005 showed a continuing decline, but he acknowledged an increase last year in crimes committed with firearms.

"Whether the increase from 2004 to 2005 marks a change in the trend toward reduced firearms victimization rates cannot be determined from one year's data," he said.

He noted that the 2005 rate was still lower than the rate reported in 2001.

"We recognize that some jurisdictions are experiencing a recent increase in certain types of violent crime," McNulty said.

Among cities in that category is the nation's capital. More than a dozen killings occurred in early July alone, prompting Police Chief Charles Ramsey to sign an emergency order extending officers' shifts and putting hundreds more on patrol.

"We're at the front end of an epidemic," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement policy center based in Washington.

Wexler, commenting on the report, said police chiefs from around the country who attended an August forum sponsored by his group reported that the increase in violent crimes first seen in 2005 had continued into this year, with major increases in three categories -- homicides, robberies and aggravated assaults.

Noting that McNulty had attended the forum, Wexler said: "There is genuine concern among police agencies that the increases are continuing and expanding. There's a need to pay closer attention."

The victimization survey follows an FBI report issued in June showing that violent crime increased 2.5 percent in 2005. Wexler said the FBI data, which also showed a substantial rise in the number of homicides, reflected conditions experienced by law enforcement officials. He said that in Sacramento, Calif., for instance, the homicide rate this year had jumped 45 percent.

According to the report released yesterday, the 2005 overall homicide rate was 5.7 per 100,000 individuals. The homicide rate jumped 5.8 percent from 2004 in the Midwest and increased 5.3 percent in the South.

Males, blacks and those under 24 were violent-crime victims more frequently than other groups, such as females, whites and those 25 or older. According to the report, 24 percent of the violent crimes were committed by an armed offender, and the rate of firearm violence increased from 1.4 individuals per 100,000 in 2004 to 2.0 per 100,000 in 2005.

Overall in 2005, according to the report, U.S. residents age 12 or older were the victims of 18 million property crimes and 5.2 million violent crimes.

At the August forum, law enforcement officials called on the federal government to refocus its efforts on fighting violent crime and suggested that international anti-terrorism efforts had sapped crime-fighting efforts.

In response, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said that cities would have to work harder to fight the increase in violence and said they should not count on increased federal assistance.

Nevertheless, Gonzales arranged a private meeting in New York last Thursday with three state police executives and the police chiefs of Los Angeles, Miami and Providence, R.I., the Associated Press learned.

One of them, Providence's Dean Esserman, came away "impressed at how much he listened. He wasn't there to defend himself. He could have used the time to preach; instead he used it to hear our concerns."

Esserman said all but a few cities have fewer police officers now than in 2001, with big reductions in New York, Boston and Detroit "because of the loss of federal money." A Clinton administration program paid for local departments to hire community-oriented police officers, but the Bush administration stopped the money for such hiring.

Walter F. Roche Jr. writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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