Figures Up 5% but 1981 Record Still Stands : Serious U.S. Crime Reverses 3-Year Downward Trend

Times Staff Writer

After a three-year downward trend, serious crime increased nationwide by nearly 5% in 1985, the FBI said Saturday in its annual Uniform Crime Report.

It noted that the figure is still 7% below the record high level set in 1981.

The report showed increases in 1985 in all seven of the criminal categories on which the agency bases the yearly crime index it has issued since 1930. The steepest rises were reported in crimes against property in suburban areas of the fast-growing South and West. Among violent crimes, aggravated assault showed the largest increase. Crimes of violence rose 4% overall.

Dimensions of Crime

Included in the report’s voluminous tables were figures showing these dimensions for violent crime:


--Murders increased 1.5% , for a total national toll of 18,976.

--Forcible rape rose 3.7% to 87,340 attacks.

--Robberies were up 2.7% for a national total of 497,874.

--Aggravated assaults rose 5.5% to 723,246.

Dealing with nonviolent crimes on the index, the FBI reported these statistics:

--Burglaries increased 3% to a total of 3,073,348.

--Larceny-thefts showed a 5.1% increase, to 6,926,380.

--Auto thefts went up 6.8%, to 1,102,862.

3% Under 1981

While the 1985 figures showed that violent crimes were 3% under the 1981 high, and crimes against property were 8% below the 1981 record, both were up from 1976 levels. In the last 10 years, the report said, violent crime has risen 32%, while property crime has risen 8%.

“There are few social statements more tragic than these,” FBI Director William H. Webster said in a forward to the 368-page report, which recorded and analyzed data provided by nearly 16,000 city, county and state law enforcement agencies representing 97% of the U.S. population. While he deplored the new figures, Webster cautioned against attempts to explain them.

“Plausible explanations for crime fluctuations are frequently offered, but their accuracy is often questionable and certainly controversial,” Webster wrote. “Law enforcement remains diligent; our citizenry has increasingly taken an active role in the fight against lawlessness. Yet we see crime rising.

‘Course Is Clear’

“Whatever the reasons . . . the course we must take is clear. It is up to all of law enforcement, the criminal justice community, and of course, each and every citizen to do more. We must take full advantage of every resource available . . . not only to solve crime but also to prevent it.”

Justice Department spokesman Terry Eastland said there was no comment on the new figures from Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, who suggested in a speech last October to the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police that the three-year decline in crime statistics recorded for 1984 spelled “significant progress in the war against crime.”

According to the FBI data, a total of 12.4 million crimes on the agency’s seven-offense index occurred in 1985, for a rate of 5,206.5 indexed crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. This was a 4.6% increase over the 11.9 million indexed crimes reported in 1984, when the FBI computed the rate at 5,03l.3 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants.


1980 Was the High

It also was the highest figure reported since 1982, when the rate stood at 5,603.6. The all-time high was 5,950 per 100,000, recorded in 1980, when the U.S. population stood at 226.5 million, as compared to 238.7 million in 1985.

The report recorded 11.9 million arrests in 1985 for all criminal infractions except traffic violations. Arrest rates varied from 7,616 per 100,000 in cities of 250,000 or more, to 3,805 per 100,000 in rural counties. Regionally, the top arrest rate was 5,902 per 100,000 in 13 Western states, with California showing a 6,058 rate.

Law enforcement agencies cleared 21% of the indexed crimes on their blotters through arrests in 1985, the report said. But police gave priority to violent crimes against persons, 48% of which were cleared.

Rate Higher in Cities

The murder total was down 16% from 1981, when 22,520 killings were recorded. Metropolitan areas reported nine murders per 100,000 inhabitants, as against five in smaller cities and six in rural counties.

In California during 1985, there were 2,770 murders--777 of them in Los Angeles, 96 in San Diego and 85 in San Francisco--making the statewide rate 10.5 per 100,000. Nationally, 92% of victims were over 18 years old, 74% were males and 42% were blacks, of whom 94% were killed by other blacks. Handguns were used in 42% of the killings.

In 1985, there were 71 reported rapes for every 100,000 females, and the national total was 37.6% above the 57,000 cases reported in 1976. But the total of 11,421 rapes reported in California--2,318 of them in Los Angeles--was down 282 from 1984, and the rate declined from 45.7 for every 100,000 females in 1984 to 43.3 last year. Of those arrested for rape, 45% were under age 25 and 52% were white.