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Decline In Crime Over*

Decline in Serious Crime May Be Over


By Dan Eggen

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, May 31, 2001; Page A16

The FBI said yesterday that the total number of murders, rapes and other serious crimes in the United States leveled off last year for the first time in nearly a decade, prompting experts to declare that the nation's historic crime drop may be over.

Nationwide, murders dropped by 1.1 percent and robberies declined 0.7 percent, while the numbers of rapes and assaults edged up slightly, according to statistics collected from more than 17,000 police departments nationwide.

The biggest increase came in auto thefts, which rose 2.7 percent from 1999 to 2000. Burglaries, by contrast, dropped 2.1 percent.

Overall, violent crime reports increased just 0.1 percent, while the general number of property crimes was unchanged, the FBI said.

The District bettered the national trend with a 5 percent drop in serious crimes overall. But the nation's capital also reported significant increases in two key categories: Robberies spiked 20 percent last year, to 4,025, while rapes leapt 17 percent, to 290.

Nationwide, the flat crime trend for 2000 marks a dramatic departure from the previous decade, when crime plummeted nationwide for eight years in a row. There had not been an increase in rapes or assaults since 1992.

Experts said the worsening economy likely helped slow the decline in crime, and warned that expected increases in the numbers of teenagers and ex-convicts could drive rates higher in coming years. Some cities are already experiencing notable crime surges: In Los Angeles last year, murders jumped 28 percent, to 544, and serious crimes increased nearly 8 percent overall.

"There are reasons to be concerned about the future," said James Alan Fox, the Lipman professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston. "Our goal should no longer be to bring down the crime rate. It should be to make sure the crime rate doesn't go back again, that it stays at this plateau."

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