FBI Reports Fewer Serious Crimes in U.S.


WASHINGTON — The number of serious crimes reported to police declined 4% last year from 1991--the first drop in eight years--but the reported incidents of violent crime remained unchanged, according to the FBI, which released its preliminary Uniform Crime Report figures Sunday.

Among violent crimes, murders dropped 6% and robberies fell 3%. Forcible rape and aggravated assault rose 2% each.

Burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson--all known as "property crimes"--declined 4% as a group. No figures for the individual categories were available.

Cities with more than 1 million residents experienced the sharpest decline in overall crime, collectively registering a drop of 8%. However, in Los Angeles, which was the scene of four days of rioting last spring, the annual decline in serious crimes was about 2%.

Serious offenses declined more than 7% in New York and about 3% in Miami. Figures were incomplete for Chicago because of reporting changes, the FBI said.

The agency offered no explanation for the overall national decline, while a leading authority on crime said studies show violent crime may begin to rise during the mid-1990s.

Marvin E. Wolfgang, professor of sociology and law at the University of Pennsylvania, said an increase in the number of Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 during this decade seems to presage an increase in violent crime. "That is the age group most responsible for these offenses," Wolfgang said.

He said he was "mildly surprised" that violent crimes remained level in 1992 and that property crimes had decreased, "although 4% doesn't sound like much when you're talking about as many as 10 million larcenies."

Another authority, Gerald M. Caplan, dean of the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, said that "statistics showing a leveling off of violent crime and a decline in property crimes will bring little comfort to people, particularly in California.

"What's upsetting are not the numbers but changes in the character of crime," Caplan said. "The new inventions in serious crimes are especially frightening, like carjackings, thefts from stores by groups of youths and more seemingly random, irrational violence.

"More people seem to be out of control at a time when prosecutors' offices are starving for funds, with hiring freezes and scarce resources," he said.

The FBI figures showed that geographically, the greatest decline in serious crimes occurred in the Northeast, which experienced a 7% drop, followed by the Midwest, 5% and the South, 4%.

Serious offenses in the Western states showed no change, the FBI said.

Among California cities experiencing a decline in serious crime were Long Beach, 10%; Santa Ana, 7%; Anaheim, 5%, and San Diego, 5%.

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