Violent crime rises across the country

Some blame federal cuts to local, state agencies

December 19, 2006|By Richard B. Schmitt | Richard B. Schmitt,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The number of murders and robberies in the U.S. continued to grow during the first half of 2006, fresh evidence that violent crime is on the upswing after more than a decade of decline, the FBI said yesterday.

From January to June 2006, violent crime increased 3.7 percent compared with the first six months of 2005, the bureau reported.

The number of robberies increased 9.7 percent, while murders rose 1.4 percent. Aggravated assaults increased 1.2 percent; forcible rape offenses declined less than 0.1 percent.

The increases, which were felt in regions across the country, follow an overall jump of 2.3 percent for violent offenses in all of 2005 and portend another year of rising violent crime, experts said. In 2005, violent crime posted its largest overall increase since 1991.

Some crime figures for Baltimore mirrored the national trend. Robberies increased 14 percent, while burglaries jumped nearly 10 percent for the first six months of this year. Murders have stayed at about the same pace as last year, while felony (aggravated) assaults were down about seven percent, the statistics show. Arsons rose by 3.2 percent. As of yesterday, there had been 263 people killed in Baltimore this year, compared with 262 for the similar period last year, city police said.

A number of different explanations have been offered for the increase, including cutbacks in federal funding to state and local law-enforcement agencies, which has led to fewer police on the street in large cities, and demographic factors, including an increase in the number of males between the ages of 14 and 24.

The trend also has kindled a debate over whether the country is spending enough for crime fighting and prevention at a time when growing numbers of federal dollars are being targeted toward terrorism and homeland security.

"Violent street crime did not go away on Sept. 11," said Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation's largest police union.

While "the same or additional resources are needed to fight those crimes," in many cases less money is being spent, he said.

The increases in violent crime were felt in all regions of the country. The West had the largest such increase: 4.7 percent.

The FBI said the number of reported robberies was up in cities of all sizes. The largest increase - 12.8 percent - occurred in cities with populations of 10,000 to 24,999. But robberies also increased in metropolitan counties - up 8.4 percent.

Cities of populations of 500,000 to 999,999 reported the sharpest increase in murders - up 8.4 percent.

The data are based on reports of more than 11,000 state and local law-enforcement agencies.

Experts said the crime upsurge reflected an increase in gang violence, particularly in mid-sized cities, and a growth in gun crimes, including robberies and homicides.

"We have gone backward in our ability to deal with the illegal gun market," said James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston.

He said the problem has been compounded by the number of police on the street in large cities dropping almost 10 percent since 2001.

Federal aid to state and local police has declined to about $890 million in 2006 from $2.5 billion in 2001.

Richard B. Schmitt writes for the Los Angeles Times. Sun reporter Gus Sentementes contributed to this article.

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