Violent crime is up for 2nd year in a row -- but it’s still ‘at a relative low’

Times Staff Writer

washington -- Violent crime increased in the United States in 2006 for the second consecutive year, continuing an upward climb after more than a decade of declines, according to statistics released Monday by the FBI.

Violent crime incidents -- defined as homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault -- increased 1.9%, to 1.41 million, in 2006. Homicides increased 1.8%, to 17,034.

The volume of violent crimes was higher than expected; preliminary data released by the FBI this summer showed a 1.3% increase over 2005.


“To some extent, the rise that we saw this year and last has been because we’re at a relative low point,” said James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston. “When you’re that low, the only way to go is up.”

The violent crime rate -- measured as incidents per 100,000 people -- peaked in the early 1990s, then steadily declined until 2005.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse noted that the overall crime rate declined to its lowest level in 30 years. “While there’s encouraging news in the latest crime rates . . . violent crime remains a challenge for some communities,” Roehrkasse said.

Fox said the increase in violent crime could be attributed to a mix of factors, including more gang activity and less law enforcement. And the nation is “not dealing with the gun issue as aggressively as we were a decade ago,” he said.

Young men’s job prospects are a key factor in crime statistics, said Alfred Blumstein, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh who specializes in criminology. “A job is what turns a crime-prone teen into a responsible adult.”

Property crimes, which outnumber violent crimes by nearly 10 to 1, declined 1.9% last year, to 9.98 million. Property crime rates dropped to their lowest level since 1987. In that category only burglary was up, by 1.3%; larceny/theft and motor vehicle thefts declined.

Among specific violent crime categories, the greatest increase was in the number of robberies, which rose 7.2% from 2005. The number of rapes and aggravated assaults dropped.

In California, violent crimes rose 2.1%, to 194,120. Homicides declined 0.7%, to 2,485.

The FBI’s data are from the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which collects crime statistics from nearly 17,000 law enforcement agencies throughout the country. Its category for homicide -- labeled “murder and nonnegligent manslaughter” -- excludes justifiable homicide and deaths caused by negligence, suicide and accident.