Pubdate: Mon, 23 Nov 1998
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 1998 The Dallas Morning News
Author: Michael J. Sniffen / Associated Press


Serious Crimes Continued To Fall That Year

WASHINGTON - The nation's murder rate reached its lowest level in 30
years as serious crimes reported to police declined for a sixth
consecutive year in 1997, the FBI said Sunday.

"These decreases are real and go beyond a statistical blip," Attorney
General Janet Reno said. "But we have not won the war on crime. We
cannot let up even one minute."

Final FBI figures for 1997 showed a 2 percent drop from the year
before in the number of major crimes reported to more than 17,000
police agencies around the nation. The 13.2 million total crimes were
7 percent below the 1993 figure.

Statistics for crime rates, which adjust for population growth, showed
more dramatic declines. Last year's rate for serious crimes was 4,923
crimes per 100,000 residents, down 3.2 percent from 1996, 10 percent
below 1993 and 13 percent lower than 1988. The murder rate plunged 8.1
percent from 1996.

In Dallas, the decrease in violent crime has been steady since 1991,
when the murder rate peaked at 500, according to Sgt. Jim Chandler,
spokesman for the Dallas Police Department.

"We were there before the national statistics started going down.
Dallas can be really proud of that - we started the trend," Sgt.
Chandler said. "We were one of only two cities, us and New York, that
had a decrease in violent crimes for seven consecutive years."

Since 1991, he said, "We've seen an overall decrease that exceeds 30

In Dallas, 209 murders and non-negligent homicides were recorded in
1997, according to FBI statistics. No comparison figures were
available late Sunday from the Dallas Police Department.

In the United States, all violent crimes - murder, rape, robbery and
aggravated assault - and the more numerous property crimes - burglary,
auto theft and larceny-theft - dropped in both number and rate.

The violent crime rate was down 4.0 percent to its lowest level since
1987, led by the 8.1 percent decline in the murder rate and a 7.8 drop
in the robbery rate. The aggravated assault rate was down 2.3 percent,
and the rape rate declined 1.1 percent.

The property crime rate fell 3.1 percent, with drops of 3.8 percent in
the auto theft rate, 3.1 percent in the larceny-theft rate and 2.7
percent in the burglary rate.

The decline in number of murders to 18,209 was the highlight - 7.3
percent fewer than in 1996 and 26 percent below the 1993 figure. The
rate of 6.8 murders per 100,000 residents was the lowest since 1967's
rate of 6.2.

"Overall things look a lot better," said Dr. James Alan Fox, dean of
the College of Criminal Justice at Boston's Northeastern University.
"But the homicide figures are misleading because not every group in
the population is at a 30-year low."

Homicide rates for adults have fallen steadily since 1980 as postwar
baby boomers reached middle age, Dr. Fox said. "They represent about a
quarter of the population and will continue to bring the crime and
homicide rates down because the fastest growing age group is 50 and

But that population bulge could mask what happens among teens, he

Teenage homicides fell 16 percent last year, the fourth straight
annual drop since they soared 169 percent between 1984 and 1993
because of the crack cocaine epidemic and the guns drug gangs put in
the hands of teenagers.

But Dr. Fox noted that the teen homicide rate remains higher than 10
years ago. "It's down now among young black males, the very group that
had the largest increases in the 1980s," he said. "But the teen
population is rising, and the growth projections, particularly among
blacks and Hispanics, show we will have more teens at risk."

Although the crack problem has subsided, he said, "This teen homicide
problem could re-emerge unless we stay focused on it. Chronic issues
remain: There's still too much television and too little supervision
after school, too much alienation and access to guns."

Meanwhile, politicians claimed some credit for the crime

"With the murder rate down by more than 25 percent since I took office
. . . Americans are safer today than they have been in many years,"
President Clinton said. "Our strategy of putting more police on the
beat and getting guns off the street is working."

Republicans in Congress credited legislation providing money to states
that lengthen prison time for violent offenders.

St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon, the city's former police chief,
credited "better police work, determinate sentences and more police
effort being directed at violent offenders. It's also the result of a
decline in the population in the crime-prone years."

Sgt. Chandler credited Dallas' falling crime rate to "a lot of things,
but No. 1, the partnership between community and police, working
better together."

"We - law enforcement - have always said we can't do this alone, and
now we're seeing the community respond to that." For instance, he
said, Dallas' Crime Watch neighborhoods have increased by more than 40
percent since 1991, to 500 groups citywide.

"We also have a lot of programs in the department that have helped -
the narcotics street squad, better intelligence about gang activities,
zero tolerance. All of that has contributed," Sgt. Chandler said.

The FBI's report that marijuana arrests reached a record of 695,201 -
double the 1992 figure and 87 percent for possession - drew a protest
from the Marijuana Policy Project, a private group advocating
legalization of small-scale personal use. "Marijuana prohibition
creates dangerous criminal markets and takes police resources away
from violent crime," the group said.

Other findings:

* Crime dropped in every region: down 5 percent in the Northeast, 2
percent in the South and West and 1 percent in the Midwest. Big cities
saw a 3 percent decline and smaller cities a 1 percent drop, but crime
rose in rural areas by 1 percent.

* The percentage of crimes solved by police remained essentially
unchanged, from a high of 66 percent of murders to a low of 14 percent
of burglaries and auto thefts.

* Sixty-five lawmen were killed on duty, an increase of nine from

* There were 9,861 hate crimes, with 60 percent motivated by racial
bias, according to reports from police agencies representing 83
percent of nation's population.

Staff writer Joy Dickinson in Dallas contributed to this
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Checked-by: Patrick Henry