WASHINGTON — Despite a steady drumbeat of crime news, 8% fewer murders were committed in 1995 than in the previous year, the FBI reported Sunday.
Violent crimes of all kinds fell 4%, the FBI said, and all serious crimes--those against property as well as people--dropped 2%, the fourth consecutive annual decline in that index.
The decrease in crimes reported to authorities comes at a time when lawlessness ranks as a leading domestic concern, measured both by recent polls and by the emphasis placed on the issue this election year by Republicans and Democrats alike.
In the face of GOP criticism that that the Clinton administration has been soft on crime, Atty. Gen. Janet Reno called the FBI figures "a further indication that aroused communities and energized federal, state and local law enforcement are working together to cut crime. We will continue to put more cops on the beat, get guns off the street and put violent criminals behind bars."
Most Southern California cities reported declines in crime rates at least equal to the national figures for 1995. Serious crime fell by 4% in Los Angeles, twice the national rate. But murders rose slightly in Los Angeles, from 845 in 1994 to 849 last year. (New York reported 1,170 murders in 1995, down from 1,561 in 1994, while the number of homicides fell in Chicago to 824 from 928, and in Detroit to 475 from 541.)
Reports of serious crime fell 16% in San Diego and 14% in Santa Ana.
Government officials seemed hard-pressed to explain the apparent gap between the drop in reported crime and the increase in political concern.
A recent survey by the Gallup Organization for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy found crime and violence to be the top national concern among adults. One out of six adults put crime at the top of their lists, and more than one out of four ranked it second or third, according to federal drug czar Barry R. McCaffrey.
McCaffrey, recounting his observations during a recent nightlong ride around a drug-infested section of New York City with an NYPD lieutenant, said "things have gotten enormously better" compared to what he observed when he made the same trip three years ago.
"It's still a nightmare," he said, "but we are doing better."
Frank Zimring, a professor at UC Berkeley's Boalt Law School and currently a visiting professor at New York University Law School, attributed crime's high ranking in the polls to the incidence of crime stories in the news media rather than to direct or even indirect personal contact with crime.
Gerald M. Caplan, dean of the McGeorge Law School in Sacramento, added that "some kinds of crime show a recklessness and a wantonness that's new--home invasions, carjackings and the like. These have brought home to people how limited government protection is. There's a new sense of vulnerability."
Caplan, former director of the National Institute of Justice, cited reports of "irrational brutality and lack of conscience" among killers in their early teens.
Associate Atty. Gen. John Schmidt, the Justice Department's third-ranking official, said a combination of community-based policing and "a higher level of community intolerance of violent crime" helped account for the decline in the crime rate.
In the FBI's 1995 data, murder's 8% decline was the largest of any category. Among the other kinds of violent crimes, the FBI registered drop-offs of 7% for robbery, 6% for forcible rape and 4% for aggravated assault.
Property crimes dropped 1% overall, with motor vehicle theft down 6% and burglary and arson both down 5%. Larceny was the only major crime to register an increase, up 1% nationally from 1994.
Cities with populations more than 1 million showed the largest decline in crimes reported to police, down 6%, while those with 500,000 to 1 million inhabitants experienced a 1% increase in crime in 1995.
Overall reported crime was down in every region of the nation, led by a 4% decline in the Northeast. Overall crime dropped 2% in the Midwest and 1% in the South and West.
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The FBI reported that violent crime dropped 4% last year as overall serious offenses reported to police declined for the fourth straight year. The figures include a look at specific crime categories for a number of California cities.
Source: Los Angeles Times