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Rates of Slayings and Gun Violence Are Up

A national victimization report echoes what FBI data show. But a one-year rise doesn't necessarily mark a trend, officials say.

September 11, 2006|Walter F. Roche Jr. | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The national rates of homicide and firearm violence jumped in 2005, ending a decade-long decline, according to a new U.S. Justice Department report that reinforces recent warnings by law enforcement officials.

The National Crime Victimization Survey, released Sunday, found that homicides increased 4.8%, from 16,140 in 2004 to 16,910 last year. The biggest increases were reported in the Midwest and South.

In a statement that accompanied the report, Deputy Atty. Gen. Paul J. McNulty noted that overall crime data for 2005 showed a continuing decline, but he acknowledged an increase in crimes committed with firearms.

"Whether the increase from 2004 to 2005 marks a change in the trend towards reduced firearms victimization rates cannot be determined from one year's data," he said.

He noted that the 2005 rate was still lower than the 2001 rate.

"We recognize that some jurisdictions are experiencing a recent increase in certain types of violent crime," McNulty said.

Among cities in that category is the nation's capital. More than a dozen homicides occurred in early July alone, prompting Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey to sign an emergency order extending officers' work shifts and putting hundreds more on patrol.

"We're at the front end of an epidemic," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement policy center based in Washington.

Wexler, commenting on the report, said police chiefs from around the country who attended an August forum sponsored by his group reported that the increase in violent crimes first seen in 2005 had continued into this year, with major rises in three categories -- homicides, robberies and aggravated assaults.

Noting that McNulty had attended the forum, Wexler said: "There is genuine concern among police agencies that the increases are continuing and expanding. There's a need to pay closer attention."

The victimization survey follows an FBI report issued in June showing that violent crime increased 2.5% in 2005.

Wexler said the FBI data, which also showed a substantial rise in the number of homicides, reflected conditions currently experienced by law enforcement officials.

He said that in Sacramento, for instance, the homicide rate this year had jumped 45%.

According to the report released Sunday, the 2005 overall homicide rate was 5.7 per 100,000 individuals.

The rate in the Midwest jumped 5.8% from 2004 and in the South, 5.3%.

Males, blacks and those under 24 were victims of violent crime more frequently than other groups.

According to the report, 24% of the violent crimes were committed by an armed offender, and the victimization rate of firearm violence jumped from 1.4 individuals per 100,000 in 2004 to 2.0 per 100,000 in 2005.

Overall in 2005, according to the report, U.S. residents 12 or older were the victims of 18 million property crimes and 5.2 million violent crimes.

At the August forum, law enforcement officials called on the federal government to refocus on fighting violent crime and suggested that international anti-terrorism efforts had sapped crime-fighting efforts.

In response, Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales said cities would have to work harder to fight violence and said they should not count on increased federal assistance.

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wally.roche@latimes.com

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