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©Los Angeles Times
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 19, 2000
WASHINGTON -- After eight straight years of record-setting improvements, the nation's battle to rein in crime appears to have stalled, with crime in some major cities edging back up, according to FBI data released Monday.
The nation's crime rate, which dropped by as much as 6 percent or 7 percent a year through much of the 1990s, was virtually unchanged for the first half of 2000. Nationwide, serious crime declined by a negligible 0.3 percent, with slight increases in rape and assault.
Some of the country's biggest cities -- including Los Angeles, Boston, Dallas, New Orleans and Philadelphia -- saw significant upturns in murder and less serious types of crime. They are often a harbinger of criminal trends nationwide.
Criminologists are searching for explanations to understand the trends.
Some say that it is is not altogether surprising after so many years of unchecked decline.
"The 1990s crime drop has ended with the 1990s," said professor James Alan Fox of Northeastern University. "This is the criminal justice limbo stick -- we just can't go any lower. We've had eight straight, wonderful years of declining crime rates, and at a certain point you just can't push those numbers further down and we've hit that point."
Another possible explanation is that many hard-core convicts who were imprisoned during the crime wave of the 1980s and early 1990s are being released after doing their time, only to be rearrested, many scholars suggest.
But they warn that if police and lawmakers become too complacent, the nation is headed for the kind of huge upturn in violence seen in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the crack drug market swelled.
"If in fact we're seeing a leveling off in crime rates, we're going to need to look for new solutions," said Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. "It's important not to assume that what we need is more of the same old ideas."
Attorney General Janet Reno said, "Our communities are safer than they have been in a generation." But she warned Americans not to grow complacent.
The FBI figures, which come from more than 17,000 police agencies around the country, are preliminary and have not been adjusted for increases in population.
- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.