Homicides, gun violence up nationwide last year
The rates of homicide and firearm violence jumped in 2005, ending a decadelong decline, according to a new U.S. Justice Department report that...
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — The rates of homicide and firearm violence jumped in 2005, ending a decadelong decline, according to a new U.S. Justice Department report that reinforces recent warnings by law-enforcement officials.
The National Crime Victimization Survey, released Sunday, found that nationwide, homicides increased 4.8 percent, from 16,140 in 2004 to 16,910 last year. The biggest increases were reported in the Midwest and the South.
In a statement that accompanied the report, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty noted that overall crime data for 2005 showed a continuing decline, but he acknowledged an increase last year in crimes committed with firearms.
"Whether the increase from 2004 to 2005 marks a change in the trend toward reduced firearms victimization rates cannot be determined from one year's data," he said.
He noted that the 2005 rate was still lower than the rate reported in 2001.
Last year, Seattle police investigated 25 homicides, a department spokeswoman said. In 2004, Seattle police investigated 24 slayings, the city's lowest homicide rate in 40 years. A decade earlier, in 1994, police investigated 69 homicides, one of the highest rates in recent years.
"We recognize that some jurisdictions are experiencing a recent increase in certain types of violent crime," McNulty said.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law-enforcement policy center based in Washington, D.C., said police chiefs from around the country who attended an August forum sponsored by his group reported that the increase in violent crimes first seen in 2005 had continued into this year, particularly in three categories: homicides, robberies and aggravated assaults.
The victimization survey follows an FBI report issued in June showing that violent crime increased 2.5 percent in 2005. Wexler said the FBI data, which also showed a substantial rise in the number of homicides, reflected conditions currently experienced by law-enforcement officials. He said that in Sacramento, Calif., for instance, the homicide rate this year had jumped 45 percent.
According to the report released Sunday, the 2005 overall homicide rate was 5.7 per 100,000 individuals. The homicide rate in the Midwest jumped 5.8 percent from 2004, and it increased 5.3 percent in the South.
Males, blacks and those under 24 were violent-crime victims more frequently than other groups, such as females, whites and those 25 or older.
According to the report, 24 percent of the violent crimes were committed by an armed offender, and the rate of firearm violence jumped from 1.4 individuals per 100,000 in 2004 to 2.0 per 100,000 in 2005.
Overall in 2005, according to the report, U.S. residents age 12 or older were the victims of 18 million property crimes and 5.2 million violent crimes.
"This report tells us more the serious events — robbery and gun crimes — increased and the FBI already told us homicides increased," said criminal justice professor James Alan Fox of Northeastern University.
"So while the report shows the more numerous but least serious violence — simple assaults, which is pushing and shoving — went down, the mix got worse in terms of severity. That wasn't a very good trade-off," Fox said.
With congressional elections approaching, these reports could pose political problems for the administration, and department officials have been scurrying to understand and deal with the problem.
Unlike the FBI report culled from police blotters, the statistic bureau makes estimates based on interviews with 134,000 people, so it counts not only reported crime but also crimes the police never hear about. Also, an estimated 53 percent of violent crimes and 60 percent of property crimes are never reported to the police.
Statistician Shannan Catalano, who wrote the new report, said the increases in gun violence and robbery rates reinforce the FBI data and the anecdotal evidence from local officials. But she cautioned that so few people in the survey reported robberies that the bureau cannot be certain whether those figures represent a true increase or a random sampling variation.
Because it is based on interviews with people about their firsthand experiences with crimes, the bureau's survey does not include homicides. It also tallies crimes such as simple assault and personal theft that are not covered by the FBI reports.
Professor Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University said the rise in gun violence was particularly troubling.
"A major police effort to confiscate guns helped bring down the surge in violent crime that occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s," Blumstein said. "But gun distribution is easier now because we have begun to back off gun control."
Backed by the National Rifle Association, the Bush administration has been cool toward gun-control measures.
McNulty noted the record-low rates but said "we are concerned about" an increase in the violent firearm crime rate.
Information from The Associated Press and The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.