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U.S. reports steepest annual violent crime drop



WASHINGTON -- Incidents of violent crime plummeted nearly 15 percent in 2000, the steepest one-year drop since the federal government began keeping track in 1973, the Justice Department said today.

That translated into 1 million fewer violent crimes in 2000 than in 1999, according to the department's National Crime Victimization Survey.

Sociologists have offered a variety of possible explanations for the decrease in violent crimes: higher incarceration rates, more police officers, higher educational standards and better educational opportunities, less drinking of hard liquor, less drunken driving, lower rates of divorce, a good economy and the legalization of abortion in 1973 that resulted in fewer unwanted children.

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But no one has been able to quantify the impact on crime that any of those variables may have had. Since each country collects data differently, it is not possible to compare the U.S. crime rate with those of other countries. Still, the United States is generally considered to have a higher rate of violence than any other Western industrialized nation.

And property crime -- three-fourths of all offenses -- dropped 10 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which conducted the survey.

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But preliminary data for 2000 indicate the homicide rate dropped just 1.1 percent from 1999 -- down from 15,533 to 15,362.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said the report was consistent with FBI findings.

"We believe that this is a very important step forward in the reduction of crime. When you get a 15 percent reduction, that's one out of every seven crimes that would have happened last year doesn't happen this year and that in our mind is a very favorable sign," Ashcroft said.

Last year's data continue a trend that began early in the last decade.

From 1993 through 2000, rapes dropped 60 percent, aggravated assaults fell 52.5 percent and motor vehicle theft dropped 52.4 percent, the report said.

As for those victimized, the group that saw the biggest drop between 1993 and 2000 was Hispanics (down an average of 5.6 percent per year), and, in terms of gender, the number of males who were victims of violent crimes dropped an average of 4.6 percent per year.

The decreases affected nearly every demographic group in the survey -- males, females, whites, blacks, Hispanics, non-Hispanics and 12- to 24-year-olds.

The only groups not seeing significant drops in violence were persons of "other races," for whom there was no measurable change, and people with annual household incomes of at least $75,000, which dipped only slightly.

Although two-thirds of violent crime (67 percent) last year involved a weapon, rape and sexual assault victims were least likely to be threatened or harmed by an armed assailant (6 percent).

More than half (55 percent) of robberies were carried out with a weapon; about one in four (26 percent) with a firearm; one in seven (14 percent) with a knife and about one in seven (13 percent) with another weapon, the report said.

More than half (52 percent) of the violent crimes and nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the property crimes were not reported to police. The survey suggested that this was because the victims felt the offense was a personal matter, or the offender was unsuccessful, or the stolen property was recovered.

The report was compiled by interviewing a national sample of nearly 160,000 people older than 12 years of age.

The younger the age group, the higher the rate of victimization, regardless of the type of violence considered, the report found.

Blacks were victims of simple violence and robbery at rates higher than whites and persons of "other races" last year.

And whites were victims of violence and simple assault at rates higher than persons of "other races" last year.

Past homicide data indicate three-fourths of victims are males, whites and blacks each account for about half, and firearms are used in seven of 10 homicides. People in households with annual incomes of $75,000 or more were victims of violent crimes and aggravated assault at about a third of the rates experienced by people in households where the annual income was less than $7,500.

Last year, people who had never married were victims of violence at a rate six times that of widowed persons and four times that of married persons.

Location, location, location: Westerners and Midwesterners experienced greater violent crime rates than did Northeasterners and Southerners.

And city dwellers experienced higher violence, robbery, total assault and simple assault at rates higher than their suburban and rural counterparts.

About a third of female victims of violent crime, rape or sexual assault said the offender was a stranger.

More than half (54 percent) of male victims of violence said the offender was a stranger.


Greta@LAW




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