WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Violent crime in the United States declined in 2008, due in part to a significant drop in the number of murders, according to the first available FBI figures covering the entire year.
The decline would be the third straight year-to-year drop in violent crime in the United States.
The preliminary figures for 2008, released Monday, show that overall reported crime dropped 2.5 percent nationally from the previous year, including a 4.4 percent decline in murders.
Although crime statistics varied sharply from city to city, the overall number of reported murders declined 9.1 percent in cities with populations of 100,000 to 250,000. However, murders increased 5.5 percent in towns of fewer than 10,000 residents.
Overall, the number of aggravated assaults declined 3.2 percent, forcible rape decreased 2.2 percent, and robbery decreased 1.1 percent.
The Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report historically provides a strong indication of the final figures that will be compiled and released later in the year. The statistics are based on a compilation of crime reports provided to the FBI by the more than 12,000 law enforcement agencies in the nation.
The report shows a small increase in violent crime in the second half of the year. Figures for the first half of 2008, which were released in early January, showed that overall violent crime through the end of June had declined 3.5 percent, compared with the 2.5 percent decline for the entire year.
Other results in the year-end figures were a 1.6 percent drop in reported property crimes from 2007, including a 13.1 percent decline in motor vehicle thefts.
Violent crime in the United States has largely been on the decline over the past two decades. In 2005, however, a surprising increase prompted headlines of an end to the drop in violence.
Monday's figures show that the downward trend has resumed. After the 2005 violent crime increase of 2.3 percent, the figures increased only 1.9 percent in 2006 and then dropped 0.7 percent in 2007 before the decline of 2.5 percent in the preliminary 2008 figures.