US violent crime rate down for fifth straight year

Although crime historically spikes during hard economic times, the US is currently bucking that trend. Both the national violent crime rate and murder rate were down in 2011, reports the FBI.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
The Chicago skyline is seen from a helicopter on June 15.

Often depicted as one of the more violent countries in the world, the United States has almost never been a safer place to live.

The FBI on Monday reported that violent crime dropped in the US for the fifth straight year, this time by 4 percent, a trend that has defied some criminologists’ thinking about the link between personal and property crimes in tough economic times.

According to the FBI, which culls from information volunteered by some 14,000 law enforcement jurisdictions from Oahu to Key West, violent crimes dropped in all four major US regions: 4.7 percent in the West, 4.9 percent in the Midwest (a region where the murder rate actually rose slightly), 4.5 percent in the South, and 0.8 percent in the Northeast. The national murder rate dropped by 1.9 percent.

In the property crimes categories, car thefts and larceny thefts decreased nationally, but burglaries ticked up slightly in all regions except the South, the FBI reported.

The falling crime rate amid the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression has puzzled some criminologists, since crime historically spikes during hard times. But countering that trend, some say, have been improvements in US policing tactics, tough sentencing laws that keep recidivists off the streets, an aging population, the popularity of video games that keep young people inside, and even communal solidarity in the face of economic adversity.

Yet even as crime rates, including the murder rate, approached historic lows, some experts also sounded a note of caution in the newest report of preliminary figures.

Firstly, a growing number of violent and property crimes in the second half of the year partially offset the trend, causing criminologists like James Alan Fox of Northeastern University in Boston to suggest that the US may be coming to “the end of the trough” in violent crime.

And in areas where people know tend to know their neighbors more intimately – small towns – there are indications that communal solidarity may have begun to slip. Indeed, the murder rate in towns with 10,000 or fewer inhabitants spiked in 2011, going up by 18 percent. At the same time, some experts note that may be a statistical anomaly, since the violent crime rate in small town America dropped by 23 percent just the year before, in 2010.

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