Violent crime rose slightly last year, but Americans experienced a 3 percent drop in total crime, the government has reported. New Justice Department figures show that violent crime rose by 0.5 percent - from 5,861,040 incidents to 5, 892,580 incidents.

But total crime in America dropped 2.9 percent. There were 34.8 million personal and household crimes in 1990, compared to 35.8 million in 1989. The big crime increase last year occurred in the category of automobile theft - which rose 19 percent.

The figures are derived from US Census Bureau interviews. Some 97,000 people in 48,000 homes were interviewed. About 13.3 million personal and household crimes were reported to police last year - similar to the 1989 figure. However, 62 percent of offenses "were never brought to official attention," the Justice Department said.

Total personal crime dropped 4.1 percent. Total household crimes dropped 1.4 percent last year.

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