Violent crime in the United States fell 1.4 percent overall last year, according to preliminary statistics released today by the FBI.
The number of murders fell 2.7 percent; rape, down 4.3 percent; and robbery, down 1.2 percent. The FBI will release the final statistics for 2007 in the early fall.
The decrease in violent crime, particularly murder, is attributable to declines in major cities. Cities with more than one million residents showed a 9.8 percent drop in murders, according to the FBI.
New York City, for example, reported 494 homicides in 2007, a 17 percent drop from 596 killings a year before. Philadelphia reported 392 killings in 2007 compared to 406 in 2006, down 3.4 percent. Houston reported 376 murders in 2006 and 351 homicides for 2007, down 6.6 percent.
"The latest numbers from the FBI are very encouraging, though still preliminary and could change when the final numbers are released later this year," Department of Justice spokesman Peter Carr said today.
"The report suggests that violent crime is decreasing and remains near historic low levels, which is a credit to increased cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement. Some communities, however, continue to face localized violent crime challenges."
While crime is down in some major metropolitan areas, there have been increases in small cities. The FBI reported a 3.7 percent murder increase in cities with 50,000 to 99,999 residents, and according to the FBI report, "violent crime actually increased 1.8 percent in non-metropolitan counties and 1.9 percent in cities with populations ranging from 10,000 to 24,999."
The FBI numbers are based on data from more than 12,000 law enforcement agencies and reflect the overall national picture. The murder rate increased 4.8 percent in 2005 and 1.8 percent in 2006. But FBI data shows that overall violent crime has dropped since a 2.5 percent increase in 2005, one of the largest percentage increases in 15 years.
Criminologists and law enforcement officials believe the increases in crime in recent years have been triggered by a rise in gang activity, violent offenders returning from prison and children who have easy access to guns.
Although the national figures show a decline, not all cities followed that trend in 2007. Murder was up in Cleveland, Washington D.C. and Baltimore. In the nation's capital there were 181 murders in 2007 compared to 169 in 2006, up 7.1 percent; Cleveland saw a 12.6 percent jump from up from 119 during 2006 to 134 in 2007.
Crime trends general follow economic patterns, prompting some criminologists to worry about economic troubles in 2008 and related unemployment growth.
Some cities have been seeing a particularly violent start to 2008. In Washington D.C., for instance, 74 people have been killed so far this year, exceeding numbers for the same time a year ago. Two weekends ago eight people were killed in Washington, prompting the D.C. government to establish a police checkpoint in one neighborhood where several killings took place.
In other cities, police have targeted high crime areas with more patrols, which cost more money in a time when the Justice Department has cut federal law enforcement grants in recent years.