Violent Crime Sees Record Drop

W A S H I N G T O N, Aug. 27, 2000 -- Violent crime dropped for the sixth straight year in 1999, taking overall crime rates to their lowest in 27 years, the U.S. Justice Department said today.

The Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics said the total number of non-lethal violent crimes, which includes rape, robbery and assault, fell by more than 10 percent in 1999 from the year before, a record one-year drop, according to the bureau’s National Crime Victimization Survey.

Today’s report confirmed the overall drop in crime across the country has continued. However, it also confirmed that some demographic groups are more likely to be victims of violent crime than others. The most vulnerable groups for violent crime are men, African-Americans, households earning less than $7,500 a year, and those under 19 years old.

Property crime also fell 9 percent, led by a drop in burglaries and household thefts, continuing its downward trend from 1974.

An estimated 28.8 million violent and property crimes took place last year, compared with 44 million in 1973 when the bureau first released the annual survey.

According to the report, which surveyed 101,000 people over age 12 from 49,000 households across the country, many people don’t see much point in going to the police. Almost half of all violent crime victims didn’t even report what happened to them. Also, only 67 percent of violent crimes involved a weapon.

Clinton Claims Some Credit

As with earlier and similar reports President Bill Clinton hailed the report as evidence his administration’s anti-crime strategy was working.

“This news is further proof that the Clinton-Gore administration’s anti-crime strategy of more police on our streets and fewer guns in the wrong hands has helped create the safest America in a generation,” Clinton said in a statement.

Clinton used the survey’s release to press Congress to approve funding for administration proposals that would put an additional 50,000 community police officers on the street, hire 1,000 new federal, state and local prosecutors and recruit 500 new firearms agents.

Attorney General Janet Reno echoed Clinton’s remarks, attributing the drop in crime to an increased number of police on the streets, tougher sentences for violent offenders and unprecedented cooperative efforts between local, state and national law enforcement officers.

“While these numbers are heartening,” she added, “there is a great deal more work to be done. Every crime that we can prevent is one less victim. We must remain vigilant in our efforts to continue to reduce crime and make our streets and communities as safe as they can possibly be.”

Murder Rate Down

The violent crime rate includes incidents of assault, rape and robbery, but does not include murder because it does not occur frequently enough to affect the overall crime rate, according to the Justice Department.

However, preliminary figures from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting System indicate murders declined by about 8 percent in 1999, dropping from 16,914 to 15,561. FBI figures released in May show many of the nation's biggest cities are the exception to the national trend and face slowly rising murder rates.(See related story.)

Of the main components of non-lethal violent crime measured by the Burea of Statistics’ survey, only simple assault saw a dramatic decline last year. It dropped 11.5 percent from 5.2 million incidents to 4.6 million incidents.

Robberies and aggravated assault also declined but only slightly.

Young people under 19 years old, city residents and people living in the western part of the country experienced the biggest decrease in violent crime. But these groups still experienced crime at a higher rate than the rest of the country as a whole.

African-Americans at Greater Risk

African-Americans remained the most exposed to violent crime, with a victimization rate of 42 incidents per 1,000 people, virtually unchanged from the year before.

Meanwhile, whites experienced a significant drop in violent crime, from 36 per 1,000 to 32 per 1,000, while Asian-Americans, Native Americans and others saw a drop from 28 per 1,000 to 25 per 1,000. Hispanics, who were divided among the various racial groups, saw their rates rise slightly from 33 per 1,000 to 34 per 1,000.

Wealthier households — those earning more than $75,000 a year — were less likely to experience violent crime at 23 violent incidents per 1,000 people. That was less than half of the 58 incidents per 1,000 people reported by households with incomes of less than $7,500.

However, property crimes were less discriminating. The rate was 220 per 1,000 for both groups.

The survey also found that 54 percent of violent crime victims knew their attackers. Nearly seven out of 10 rape and sexual assault victims knew the person who attacked them, the survey found.

ABCNEWS' Vic Ratner, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.