Archive for Monday, November 26, 2001

City crime statistics creep back up

November 26, 2001


— Many of the nation's big cities are reporting a rise in murders this year, leading some crime experts to warn that the decadelong trend of good news on crime, much like the economy, might have come to an end.

Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Boston and Pittsburgh are among the cities where homicides have risen significantly this year. This marks a reversal from the 1990s, when murder and violent crimes declined steadily.

The Los Angeles Police Department reports 520 homicides as of Nov. 17, up from 479 during the same period last year. The number suggests that the city will record its second consecutive increase in murders after a period of declines.

Chicago police have recorded 598 homicides this year, up from 567 during the same time last year. Phoenix police say they have tallied 220 homicides, up from 172 last year.

The booming economy of the last decade is credited with helping push down the crime rate, and the sudden pullback in the economy might boost crime, some experts say.

"I had predicted we'd see crime rates go up this year," said James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston. "It's not just unemployment going up. The youth population is growing, and you have more people coming out of prisons with bad attitudes and poor skills."

But others caution that it is too soon to say that general crime rates are rising again.

New York is reporting further declines in crime, despite the redeployment of its police force since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The nation's largest city said it recorded 559 homicides through Nov. 18 (excluding the roughly 3,600 people killed in the attack on the World Trade Center). At the same time last year, New York had 613 murders.

Philadelphia had 277 murders as of last week, down slightly from the 279 recorded last year. Dallas had 197 murders, down from 203; and San Diego had 54 murders by the end of September, the same number as last year.

"There doesn't seem to be a clear national trend," said Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "Some cities are going up . Some are going down. And overall, it appears to be flat."

But a flat rate, or no change, would be a change in itself, as crime rates fell sharply during the late 1990s.

The Justice Department issues an annual report on crime based on FBI data and reports from crime victims. Its most recent annual report found that violent crime in 2000 had fallen 15 percent and property crimes were down 10 percent over the past year. Overall, the "crime index" for 2000 was the lowest since 1972, the department reported.

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