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Violent Crime Down in U.S., Survey Finds

September 18, 1996|ROBERT L. JACKSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Americans may fear violent crime more than in the past but new figures released by the Justice Department on Tuesday show that they are experiencing it less.

Violent crimes such as robbery, rape and aggravated assault dropped by more than 9% in 1995 compared with 1994, according to preliminary estimates from the department's survey of crime victims. The survey, based on interviews with crime victims, included some offenses that had not been reported to police.

The new figures marked the second year in a row that violent crime has declined, reversing a trend of increasing crime that had existed since the mid-1980s, the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics reported. Last year's survey showed a marginal drop of 1%.

The results were welcome news for President Clinton, who has been trumpeting his anti-crime record as he seeks reelection. They raised a potential problem for his Republican foe, Bob Dole, who has criticized the administration for what he said have been too-feeble efforts in attacking violent crime.

But the Dole campaign, in a statement, contended that the sheer number of violent crimes is the figure to focus on, regardless of any downward trend. "By any definition, these numbers highlight a national catastrophe and the abject failure of Bill Clinton's liberal policies to effectively deal with crime," the statement said.

Total crimes of violence dropped from 10.9 million in 1994 to 9.9 million last year, the Justice Department survey found. Included were an 18% decline in forcible rapes (from 432,700 to 354,670), a 13.5% drop in robberies (from 1.3 million to 1.1 million) and a 24% reduction in aggravated assaults that caused injuries (from 678,540 to 516,460).

There were also 5.5% fewer property crimes last year than in 1994--29.3 million compared with 31 million the year before, according to the survey. The rate of nonviolent property crimes--burglary, simple theft and motor vehicle theft--was 288 per 1,000 households, down from 308 per 1,000 homes in 1994, the report said.

Among the factors Atty. Gen. Janet Reno cited for the survey results were "re-energized cooperation" between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in attacking major street gangs and narcotics rings.

She also attributed the decline to increased numbers of police officers on the streets and to congressional efforts at "keeping guns out of the wrong hands," such as the so-called "Brady bill" law, which requires a waiting period before a handgun can be purchased and a ban on certain assault weapons.

But Gerald M. Caplan, dean of the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento and an expert on crime, said that the new statistics, "while promising, do not tell the whole story."

Caplan said: "What frightens many Americans is the random and unpredictable nature of many violent crimes, such as street gangs and drive-by shootings. The statistics provide only cold comfort."

The Justice Department survey was based on interviews with 100,000 people 12 years of age and older in 49,000 households about crimes that had affected them. The survey included both unreported crimes and those reported to police, with the exception of murders, since murder victims cannot be interviewed.

Murders dropped 8% last year, however, compared with 1994, according to separate figures from the FBI's preliminary 1995 data on crimes reported to police.

Officials said no city or regional statistics figures were available. The FBI reported last month that violent crimes by youths dropped in 1995, the first decrease in seven years.

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