Justice Department Reports Crime Rate Lowest in Three Decades

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WASHINGTON (Talon News) — The Justice Department announced on Sunday that the crime rate dropped last year to a 30-year low and has been cut in half in the past decade.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics survey revealed that there were approximately 23 million crime victims in 2002, significantly below the 44 million crimes perpetrated in 1973 when crime statistics were first recorded.


Violent crimes, such as rape, robbery, and assault, accounted for 23 out of every 1,000 victims in 2002 compared with 50 out of every 1,000 victims in 1993.

Property crimes, such as burglary and car theft, went from a rate of 319 out of every 1,000 victims in 1993 down to a rate of 159 out of every 1,000 victims last year.

This study did not include the crime of murder since that statistic is measured separately by the Federal Bureau of Investigations. However, preliminary FBI statistics released in June found that the murder rate increased by 0.8 percent last year over 2001. These numbers are determined by examining police reports across the country.

The Justice Department reports that the survey shows decreases in every major property and violent crime category, regardless of various demographics, such as race, income, and ethnicity. They say crime is down in cities, suburbs, and rural areas.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said the decrease in crime rates can be attributed to community watch programs and the outstanding work of police, prosecutors and judges. However, he warns against being satisfied with the numbers.

“But lower crime rates must not lead to complacency,” Ashcroft warned. “We must continue our vigilance and renew our firm commitment to protect all Americans, bringing swift and certain justice to all those who would inflict pain and harm.”

Crime experts point to several reasons for the crime rate reduction. They believe criminals are more mature and less violent, especially those dealing with drugs. Also, they look at gang membership reductions and technological advances with home burglary systems for helping reduce criminal activity.

Nevertheless, some crime statistic observers were startled by the reduction in crime.

“Everyone thought the numbers would bottom out and then go back up, but it hasn’t happened,” explained James Lynch, a law professor at the American University Center for Justice, Law and Society.

Criminologists argue that the threat of more stringent prison sentences as well as the construction of additional prisons accounts for keeping the criminals from wreaking havoc on society. According to 2001 Justice Department statistics, one out of every 37 U.S. adults had been in state or federal prison at some point in his or her lifetime.

However, other theories about why the crime rates have dropped abound.

The Justice Policy Institute, which examines other forms of criminal punishment, found that geographical areas of higher prison growth were shown to have the most murders in 2002. The South and West were identified by the group as evidence of this trend.

“We need to separate political rhetoric from sound crime and corrections policy,” said Executive Director of the Justice Policy Institute Vincent Schiraldi.

The survey conducted by the Justice Department sampled 76,050 U.S. residents 12 and older. An earlier report based on actual crimes reported to state and local police across the country, the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, also found drops in the crime rate.

Other findings of the Justice Department report include:

*A 19 percent drop in robberies from 2001 to 2002 and a 63 percent decrease in robberies since 1993.

*Property crime rates for households with an annual income of $50,000 or more dropped 52 percent in rural and suburban areas and 48 percent in cities since 1993.

*U.S. residents with an annual income of $7,500 or less accounted for 52 burglaries out of every 1,000 households at that level compared with 32 out of every 1,000 households for those earning $7,500 to $14,999.

*Men are more likely to be the victim of crime than women, blacks more likely than whites or Hispanics and those under the age of 24 more than those who are older.

*Urban residents accounted for 33 crimes for every 1,000 residents in 2002 compared with 20 crimes for every 1,000 residents in the suburbs and 17 crimes for every 1,000 residents in rural areas.

*Women and girls were victimized more by someone they knew than men and boys were in 2002. Female victims were friends or acquaintances with 40 percent of their assailants, including 20 percent as intimate partners and 7 percent as a relative.