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Crime Drops but Still Hits 26% of U.S. Households

Times Staff Writer

About 22.8 million American households--26% of the nation’s total--experienced a crime of violence or theft last year, fewer than in any year since the survey by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics began in 1975, the bureau reported Sunday.

The number of households affected by a burglary, motor vehicle theft or larceny, or inhabited by a person who was raped, robbed, assaulted or suffered personal larceny dropped about 800,000 from the 1983 level, and 2 million from 1982, Steven R. Schlesinger, the bureau’s director, said.

He cited as possible causes of the decline greater public awareness in understanding of crime and citizens’ crime prevention programs.

“On the negative side, crime continues to be an enormous problem for American society,” said Schlesinger, whose bureau is a unit of the Justice Department.

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The nearly 23 million households touched by crime “felt in varying degrees the pain, economic loss, sense of violation and frustration that accompany crime victimization,” he said.

Vulnerable Households

Throughout the 10-year period in which the survey of 60,000 housing units has been conducted, certain households have remained more vulnerable to crime than others--black households, those with high incomes and those in central cities of metropolitan areas.

During 1984, 29% of all black households, 30% of all households with incomes of $25,000 or more and 31% of all households in central cities were affected by crime, the bureau said.

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The drop in crime experienced last year resulted primarily from declines in the percentage of households touched by burglary and by larceny, according to the survey.

Last year, 18.6% of all U.S. households suffered at least one personal or household larceny, compared to 19.7% the year before. The percentage experiencing burglary dropped to 5.5% from 6.1%.

By contrast, the percentage of households with members who were victims of violent crime was virtually the same in the last two years--5.1% in 1983 and 4.9% in 1984, the survey found.

A higher percentage of black households had members who fell victim to violent crime in 1984, reflecting the fact that 2% of all black households had members who were robbed, compared to 1% of all white households.

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“One in 24 black households and one in 42 white households had a member who was raped, robbed or the victim of aggravated assault,” the bureau said.

The survey found that, generally, it is safer to live in the country than in metropolitan areas.

One in 53 urban households included a robbery victim in 1984, compared to one in 111 suburban households and one in 200 rural households. For burglaries and violent crimes committed by strangers, the breakdown was one in nine urban dwellings, one in 14 suburban homes and one in 16 rural homes, according to the survey.

Over the span of the survey, the nation’s population has gradually shifted to statistically safer regions, the bureau noted. From 1975 through 1984, the percentage of households in central cities fell from 32% to 29% of the total, while suburban and rural households rose to 71% from 68%.

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Crime Peaked in 1982

The downward trend has accelerated since 1982, the peak year for households touched by crime, Schlesinger said. “Since 1982, the drop has been sharper, accounting for two-thirds of the total decrease since 1975,” he said.

In the national crime survey, the Census Bureau conducts interviews at six-month intervals in about 60,000 households. Some 128,000 persons at least 12 years of age are asked what crimes they experienced since the last interview.

In addition to excluding crimes against children under 12, the survey does not count homicides. The bureau said that including them would not have substantially changed the household statistics.

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