May 31, 2001
Serious Crimes Stabilize in 2000 After 8-Years Of
By FOX BUTTERFIELD
The number of serious crimes in the United States remained steady
last year after an eight-year decline, the longest on record, the
Federal Bureau of Investigation reported yesterday.
The F.B.I.'s Uniform Crime Report cited preliminary figures for 2000
showing that overall crime nationwide was virtually unchanged from 1999.
By comparison, overall crime fell by 7 percent from 1998 to 1999, and
had fallen by similarly large amounts consistently since 1992.
Experts and law enforcement officials have long cautioned that crime
cannot drop indefinitely, and some said that yesterday's report
confirmed their belief that the trend had finally run its course.
"It seems that the crime drop is officially over," said
James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern
University in Boston who has been a consultant to the Justice Department
on improving the analysis of crime data.
"We have finally squeezed all the air out of the balloon,"
Professor Fox said, suggesting that the variety of law enforcement
strategies that helped reduce the high levels of crime of the late
1980's and early 1990's may have achieved their maximum benefit.
Other experts, pointing out that one year's data do not make a trend,
emphasized the difficulty of basing predictions on the report, which is
compiled from arrest figures supplied by 17,000 police agencies. Perhaps
the most striking thing about it, they said, is that it shows no clear
"The big question now is, Is this just a flattening out of
crime, or is it turning upward?" said Alfred Blumstein, a
criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University.
Professor Blumstein said his own view was that "it is a
flattening out, rather than a clear indicator of a new upward
trend," because the F.B.I. data showed no sharp differences from
one crime to another, and no patterns based on sizes of cities or
In the past, a large increase or decrease in the most serious crime,
homicide, or in crime in the biggest cities, has tended to predict
significant changes in crime rates.
But yesterday's report has no such leading indicators. The number of
arrests for homicide declined by 1.1 percent compared with 1999, for
example, but arrests for rape were up 0.7 percent. Similarly, arrests
for burglary dropped 2.1 percent, but arrests for motor vehicle theft
jumped 2.7 percent.
The report measures the four violent crimes of homicide, rape,
robbery and aggravated assault and the three property crimes of
burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft. Drug crimes are not counted.
In big cities, those with populations of more than one million, crime
fell over all by 0.5 percent, but in cities with populations of 100,000
to 250,000, it rose 0.5 percent. Suburban counties showed an increase in
overall crime of 0.7 percent, but rural counties had a decrease of 0.8
Geographically, the Northeast had a decline in crime of 2.5 percent,
and the Midwest had a drop of 1.1 percent. The South had an increase of
1 percent, and the West had a gain of 1.1 percent.
An earlier F.B.I. report found that as of 1999 the rate of major
crimes had fallen to the level of the 1960's. Yesterday's report,
because it is based on preliminary data, does not contain official
figures for crime rates in 2000, but given the closeness of the arrest
figures for 1999 and 2000, the rates will probably be very similar.
Despite the absence of clear patterns, both Professor Blumstein and
Professor Fox warned that crime rates could remain steady, or start
climbing again, if law enforcement was unable to find effective new ways
to build on its crime-fighting successes of the last decade.
Some of the factors that contributed to the crime drop, the experts
say, were smart new policing tactics, tougher prison sentences, new gun
control laws and more involvement by neighborhood groups. The waning of
the crack epidemic also played a role, experts say, as did the nation's
prolonged economic expansion.
Gil Kerlikowske, the police chief of Seattle, suggested that the
police need to do a better job in getting local elected officials and
neighborhood leaders involved in preventing crime, because "there
is no magic police pill."
"The police can't solve all crime by themselves," he said.
Professor Blumstein suggested that one new strategy, now that the
economy had sputtered, would be to focus more attention on preventing
young people from becoming involved in crime, especially by finding jobs
In addition, he said, with more than 600,000 inmates scheduled to be
released from federal and state prisons this year, more attention needs
to be paid to preparing these prisoners for returning to society.
"We've been so busy building prisons over the past two decades,
we've abandoned rehabilitation," except in a few states, Professor
The advent of a popular new drug, like crack in the 1980's, could
also send crime soaring again, he said.
The trendless nature of crime last year was reflected in the
variation in the number of homicides in many cities, with no discernible
pattern. Some cities, which had enjoyed record low numbers of homicides,
had an increase in 2000, like Boston, which had 39 homicides in 2000
compared with 31 in 1999, and San Diego, which jumped 57 murders in 2000
from 32 in 1999, a large increase in percentage terms. Los Angeles had
the largest numerical gain, rising to 544 homicides in 2000 from 425 in
Washington had a small decrease, falling to 232 homicides from 241 in
Homicides in New York City, after a number of years of plummeting,
increased last year, though only slightly, to 673 in 2000 from 664 in
1999, the report said. But homicides fell back this year, according to
New York Police Department statistics — as of May 27 there had been
246 homicides in the city, compared with 294 in the same period last