A Miami-Dade police officer directs traffic away from a crime scene in July.

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The downward trend in violent crime continues in 2010, the FBI says

Criminologists say an economic slump has not affected crime statistics

The aging population and community policing practices may play a role

Washington CNN  — 

Violent crime in the United States declined 6% last year, according to statistics compiled by the FBI and released Monday.

Despite difficult economic conditions, the 2010 figures show a continuing decline in violent incidents nationwide, which have been dropping annually since 2006.

There were slightly fewer than 1.25 million violent crimes in the United States in 2010, a 6% decline from calendar year 2009.

Since 2001, violent incidents have now dropped 13.4%.

This past year the closely watched murder totals dropped about 4.2%, from 15,399 in 2009 to 14,748 in 2010. The FBI says despite the improvement, a murder occurs in the United States every 35 minutes.

Violence flared slightly more in the South than in other regions of the country, according to the FBI statistics.

In other violent crime categories, aggravated assaults were down 4.1%, rape declined 5%, and robbery dropped 10%.

In non-violent crimes, the FBI said property crime declined 2.7%. Both auto theft and arson were down more than 7%.

Criminologists anticipated the continued decline after preliminary figures for the first half of 2010 were released this spring, showing a 5.5% drop in violent incidents reported to police.

The FBI compiles the figures from about 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country, but does not provide explanations for changes in levels of crime.

When population increases are factored into the statistics, officials note that the rate of crimes committed per 100,000 inhabitants shows an even larger decline – 6.5% – from the rate of violence reported in 2009.

Independent academics and criminologists speculated on a wide range of possibilities for the decreases. Among reasons cited in conversations with CNN were an aging population, stepped-up community policing practices, local and federal government programs targeted at youths and programs aimed at newly released prison parolees.

Nonetheless, the criminologists say high unemployment and housing issues that might have been expected to be factors have not noticeably affected the crime statistics.