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U.S. violent crime falls slightly

But national one-year averages mask better progress in big cities and a crime rise in the South.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 11, 2008


After two years of increases, violent crime in the United States seems to be on the wane.

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Overall, the number of violent crimes fell by 1.4 percent from 2006; in the 10 largest cities, homicides fell by nearly 10 percent, according to the preliminary 2007 statistics released by the FBI Monday.

Still, experts caution against reading too much into year-to-year statistics, and note that broad nationwide or regional trends can often mask important trends – not all of them positive – in specific cities or demographic groups.

"I think we see a continuation of what is basically a flat trend that we've been experiencing pretty much since 2000," says Alfred Blumstein, a professor of urban systems at the Heinz School at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Certain cities – notably Los Angeles and New York – showed big drops in their murder rate, he notes, while others, like New Orleans and Atlanta, saw increases. "What we're seeing is more individual city-based experiences than any national picture," he says.

One of the most positive stories is New York City, which had 496 murders last year, 100 fewer than the year before and the lowest since comparable records have been kept. The city also saw a big decrease in the number of guns taken off the street, and ranked last among the 10 biggest cities in terms of crimes per capita.

"The numbers continue to go in the right direction, and it's because of the impressive efforts of the men and women of the [New York Police Department], as well as our innovative policing strategies and efforts to keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a statement.

America's two other largest cities – Los Angeles and Chicago – also made significant improvements in reducing murders and other crimes last year, a fact Professor Blumstein attributes in part to growing knowledge about how to tackle violence.

"They've got the managerial savvy and the slack resources that, when they see something start to go bad, typically in one of the hot-spot neighborhoods, they know what to do and they have the resources to deal with it," he says.

But criminologists say that some of the most important changes often occur in specific pockets and demographics and that simply looking at the overall decrease in violent crime can lead to a sense of complacency about progress even as attention is needed to stanch certain worsening problems.