From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau
Monday, October 25, 2004 Posted: 2:15 PM EDT (1815 GMT)
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• FBI report: Crime in the United States 2003
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WASHINGTON (CNN) — Violent crime in the United States dropped 3 percent last year, continuing the downward trend in the nation’s crime rate over the past decade, the FBI announced Monday.
The drop came despite a 1.7 percent increase in reported murders between 2002 and 2003, according to the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report. All other categories of violent crime — manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — declined.
Sixty-two percent of last year’s murders have been solved to date, compared with 46 percent of all violent crimes, the report said.
Total property crime, which includes nonviolent criminal incidents such as auto theft, burglary and larceny decreased slightly, down 0.2 percent.
The detailed report is compiled by the FBI using data provided by 17,000 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies representing 93 percent of the nation’s population. The findings each year are widely viewed as a crucial barometer in identifying trends and establishing law enforcement priorities, according to police local and federal law enforcement officials.
Total violent crime in the U.S. has dropped 25 percent since 1994, the FBI statistics show. The report does not explain the reasons for the trend, but criminologists and law enforcement officials attribute the decline to a variety of factors including stricter law enforcement, longer prison terms for repeat offenders, community policing and an aging population.
Attorney General John Ashcroft praised law enforcement efforts, and hailed the findings, saying, «Law-abiding Americans are enjoying unprecedented safety.»
«We remain committed to preventing crime and holding accountable those who violate our laws,» he said.
The nation’s chief law enforcement official cited increased gun crime prosecutions, the removal of some drug traffickers from the streets and stiff prison sentences for hardened criminals as factors in the continued drop in crime.
Last year, rapes in 2003 declined by 1.9 percent. Robberies were down by 2.7 percent, and aggravated assaults dropped by 3.8 percent.
The newly-released data shows 16,503 murders occurred in the U.S. last year, but provides no indication why homicides did not decline along with other serious crimes.
But the figures provide a window into the killings: 90 percent of victims were adults; 77 percent were males; 48.7 percent of murder victims were white; 48.5 percent were black; 92 percent of black victims were killed by black offenders; 84.7 percent of white victims were killed by whites.
In about 55 percent of murder cases last year, authorities found a previous relationship between victim and assailant. In 45 percent of the cases, no known relationship was established between the victim and the assailant.
Firearms were used in 71 percent of the reported homicides, compared with 13 percent in which knives were used. In 7 percent, «personal» weapons — hands, fists and feet — were used to commit the murders.
The FBI said nearly 7,500 hate crimes were reported in 2003. Fifty-one percent were motivated by racial bias, 18 percent by religious bias, 16 percent by sexual orientation bias and 14 percent by bias involving ethnicity and national origin.
The FBI figures show that in murder cases where victim and offender knew one another, 32 percent of females were killed by their husbands or boyfriends, and 2.5 percent of males were killed by their wives or girlfriends.
This year, FBI statisticians compiling the crime report conducted a special analysis of violence inside the family unit during the period 1996 through 2001. They found 53 percent of violent incidents within families involved spousal relationships, including common-law spouse and ex-spouse relationships.
An additional 44 percent of violent incidents involved a child, and three percent involved elderly parents. The most common crime was assault, usually using hands and fists, not weapons. Among child victims, assaults were most common, and sex offenses were second in number.
Among elderly victims, after assault, robbery was the second most common crime.
A second FBI analysis released with the annual crime report mapped homicides within specific communities over a 20 year period. A key finding shows that in about 70 percent of homicides victims and offenders typically had some prior relationship, compared with 30 percent in which police could find little or no connection.
The FBI said the finding that so many murders involve individuals with an existing relationship indicates «a complex function of other factors» for law enforcement officials to consider in designing strategies to combat crime.
From Terry Frieden