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The Nation

Crime Rates Drop to 30-Year Low

There were 23 million victims of rapes, assaults and other offenses, far below 1973 figures.

August 25, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Violent and property crimes dipped in 2002 to their lowest levels since records started being compiled 30 years ago, and have dropped more than 50% in the last decade, the Justice Department reported Sunday.

The annual survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics identified about 23 million crime victims last year, down slightly from the year before and far below the 44 million recorded when studies began in 1973.

The rate of violent crimes -- rapes, robberies and assaults -- was about 23 victims for every 1,000 U.S. residents 12 or older last year. That compares with 25 victims per 1,000 in 2001 and 50 in 1993.

For property crimes such as burglary and car theft, the rate was 159 crimes per 1,000 last year, down from 167 the previous year and 319 in 1993.

The study examined all property and violent crimes except murder, which is measured separately by the FBI. Preliminary FBI statistics for 2002 released in June -- based on reports from police across the country -- reported a 0.8 percentage point rise in the murder rate compared to 2001.

The Justice Department survey, however, found continuing decreases in every major property and violent crime, crossing all household income, racial and ethnic lines. Crime is down in cities, suburbs and rural areas.

Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft credited citizens for being more willing to report crimes and said the numbers are a tribute to the work of police, prosecutors and judges across the country.

"But lower crime rates must not lead to complacency," Ashcroft said. "We must continue our vigilance and renew our firm commitment to protect all Americans, bringing swift and certain justice to all those who would inflict pain and harm."

Experts say a number of factors have driven the crime rate down, including a more mature, less violent illegal drug trade, a drop in gang membership and even improved locks and alarms that deter would-be burglars.

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