Violent crimes become a downward trend

WASHINGTON (AP) —Violent crimes reported to police dropped by a record 7 percent in 1996 as overall serious crime declined for a fifth consecutive year, the FBI reported Sunday.
Led by record declines of 11 percent in murders and 6 percent in aggravated assaults, preliminary FBI figures showed that violent crimes of murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault together had the largest one-year decline in the 35 years since the FBI began reporting year-to-year comparisons in 1961.
The far more numerous property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft and auto theft collectively dropped by 3 percent.
All together, the seven serious reported crimes logged a 3 percent decline, the largest since a 3.3 percent drop in 1982.
“The tide is turning, but there’s a lot more to do,” said James Alan Fox, dean of criminology at Northeastern University.
“There can be momentum. When we’re hopeless, we retreat. But when crime comes down, people feel better and safer so they get involved with police. They get together to take charge of neighborhoods as opposed to just hiding indoors,” Fox said. “That cohesion and cooperation brings crime down more.”
President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno credited: their 1994 crime bill, which toughened sentences and has paid for 57,000 new local police officers in community-oriented programs; the Brady law, which has thwarted tens of thousands of illegal gun sales; and juvenile-crime-prevention programs.
“The continued downward trend over the past four years is further evidence that we are on the right track with increased community policing, tougher penalties and greater juvenile crime prevention,” Clinton said.
They appealed for passage of Clinton proposals to add prosecutors and penalties for youth and gang violence, to prevent teenagers from purchasing handguns, and to provide after-hours youth programs in schools. Clinton said a House-passed bill designed to try more juveniles as adults falls short.
Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., chairman of the House subcommittee that produced the bill, said, “Even with these declines, it is still four times more likely that you are going to be raped, robbed, assaulted or murdered than it was in 1960.”
“I don’t think guns are a big factor in this. Good community policing doesn’t depend on finding contraband guns but the fact that the cop knows the kids and the gangs,” McCollum said. He claimed some credit for Republican-sponsored incentives to build more state prisons and keep violent criminals behind bars longer.
Academics and police chiefs also cited other factors:
The huge, postwar baby boom generation’s passage from its crime-prone years into middle age.
Declines in criminal turf wars as crack cocaine markets matured.
Police efforts to disarm criminals and juveniles, including “zero-tolerance” campaigns, originated in New York City, against minor disorder crimes such as playing loud music. Such enforcement activity gives police more chances to search for illegal weapons.