Violent Crime Rate Falls To Record-Low Level

September 9, 2002

Associated Press

Washington - The number of people who were victims of all crimes except murder fell by 9 percent in 2001, sending the crime rate to its lowest level since it was first tracked in 1973, the government reported yesterday.

The decline was due primarily to a record low number of reported assaults, the most common form of violent crime.

The drop is detailed in the 2001 National Crime Victimization Survey, which is based on interviews with victims and thus does not include murder. It is to be released this week.

Preliminary figures from another FBI report - gleaned from more than 17,000 city, county and state law enforcement agencies and released in June - reflected an increase in murders of 3.1 percent in 2001. There was no state-by-state breakdown.

Experts discussing the new report on violent crime said the decrease, part of a decade-long trend, is the result primarily of the strong economy in the 1990's and the prevalence of tougher sentencing laws.

Since 1993, violent crime has decreased by almost 50 percent.

The new report says that between 2000 and 2001, the number of people who reported they were victims of violent crime fell from about 28 per 1,000 to about 25 per 1,000, an almost 11 percent drop. The number of people reporting violent crimes fell from 6,323,000 in 2000 to 5,744,000 in 2001.

The report showed a 10 percent decrease in the violent crime rate for whites. It also included a 11.6 percent decrease for blacks and a 3.9 percent increase for Hispanics.

Assault was down 10 percent, but victim reports reflected a 13 percent increase in injuries.

The effect of tougher sentencing laws can best be seen in the drop in the rate at which people in the United States are assaulted, said Bruce Fenmore, a criminal statistician at the Institute for Crime and Punishment, a Chicago-based think tank.

"There is overwhelming evidence that people who commit assaults do it as a general course of their affairs," Fenmore said. "Putting those people behind bars drops the rate."

Victims of rape and assault were the least likely (7 percent) to face an armed offender, while robbery victims were the most likely (55 percent).

Rape fell 8 percent, and sexual assaults - which include verbal threats and fondling - fell 20 percent. About half the women who reported rapes said the perpetrator was a friend or acquaintance. The rate at which women reported rape to the police fell 19 percent in 2001.

The overall property crime rate fell 6 percent between 2000 and 2001 because of a 6.3 percent decrease in theft and a 9.7 percent decrease in household burglaries.

The car theft rate was up 7 percent, reflecting a jump from 937,000  car thefts in 2000 to 1,009,000 in 2001.

Teenagers seemed less likely to be victims of violent crime. The crime rate against those between ages 16 and 19 fell 13.2 percent.

Crime also fell in each of the regions of the United States but showed the most dramatic decline, 19.7 percent, in the Midwest.

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