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Monday, May 6, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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U.S. Murder Rate Down 8 Percent In 1995, FBI Says -- Third- Steepest Drop In 30-Some Years Offset By Fears Over Rising Teen Violence

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - Serious crime fell for the fourth year in a row in 1995, with murder dropping 8 percent - the third-sharpest one-year decline in more than 30 years.

America's largest cities led the way, recording steep reductions in all categories of violent crime, according to an FBI report released yesterday. Experts credit more effective police tactics and the maturation of once-violent drug markets.

But, scholars warn, while overall crime is dropping, crime among teens has been rising sharply. With the number of teens due to increase over the next decade, experts say, the nation soon may see an explosion of juvenile violence to rival the drug-driven carnage of the late 1980s.

"This is the calm before the crime storm," said James Alan Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston. "It's great that crime is down now, but if we start celebrating our successes, we may be blindsided by a bloodbath."

The only crime to rise - larceny, by 1 percent - foreshadows the anticipated surge in youth crime, said Professor Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie-Mellon University.

"Larceny - such as bicycle theft, stealing auto parts and shoplifting - is the crime with the youngest criminals," Blumstein said. "The peak age for larcenists is 15 or 16."

The new report, the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report, reflects the number of incidents reported to police agencies in eight major crime categories. Its results are preliminary and do not allow an analysis of trends among juveniles in 1995.

Nationally, the report shows serious crime fell 2 percent last year, with property crimes down 1 percent and violent crimes down 4 percent.

Crime fell in every category and every region of the country, dropping most sharply - 4 percent - in the Northeast. The Midwest saw a 2 percent decline; the South and West recorded 1 percent reductions.

Murder declined most dramatically, falling 8 percent to about 21,400 murders for 1995, down from a peak of about 24,700 murders in 1991, according to FBI statistics.

Since the FBI began keeping complete records in 1960, only two years have seen sharper drops in murder: 1983, when the number fell 8.1 percent, and 1976, when it fell 8.4 percent.

The murder rate for teenagers grew by 22 percent between 1990 and 1994, James Alan Fox, dean of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston.

Fox said, "Over the next 10 years, the teen population will expand by 17 percent, because there are now 39 million children under age 10, more than we've had since the 1950s when the baby boomers were in grade school."

Fox predicted that "this calm before the crime storm won't last much longer."

Some experts were reluctant to read too much into the report.

Howard Snyder, director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice in Pittsburgh, said the number of murders in America has hovered around 20,000 since about 1975.

"Over the last 20 years, nothing has really happened. There's never been any really big change," said Snyder, who analyzes juvenile crime for the Justice Department.

Other experts agreed that the drop probably represents a simple leveling off of murder rates in major cities, where murder skyrocketed during rapid expansion of crack cocaine in the late 1980s.

Just five big cities - New York, Houston, Chicago, San Antonio, New Orleans and Detroit - accounted for nearly 40 percent of the total reduction in murders last year.

In the nine cities with more than 1 million residents, murder and robbery both dropped 12 percent, with all violent crimes declining by 8 percent.

In suburbs, murder dropped 10 percent. In smaller cities, it dropped just 3 percent. In rural counties, murder was down 1 percent.

New Orleans retained the title of murder capital for the third straight year, even though its homicide rate declined. Rounding out the top five in number of murders in proportion to population: Washington, D.C.; Richmond, Va.; St. Louis; Detroit.

Oklahoma City shot into the top 10 after the federal-building bombing last April left 168 dead. According to the FBI, murder in Oklahoma City jumped 250 percent, from 65 killings in 1994 to 227 last year.

Four of the five safest cities in 1995 were in California: Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Sunnyvale and Santa Clarita. Livonia, Mich., came in fifth.

-------------------------- SEATTLE'S CRIME STATISTICS --------------------------

Seattle's overall crime rate dropped 1.8 percent the first three months of this year compared with the first three months of 1995:

1995 1996 Percent

(1st quarter) (1st quarter) change . Murder 15 8 - 46.6 . Rape 72 63 - 12.5 . Robbery 603 463 - 23.2 . Assault 612 539 - 11.9 . Burglary 2,055 1,931 - 6.0 . Theft 9,064 9,271 + 2.2 . Auto theft 1,929 1,809 - 6.2 . Arson 17 22 + 29.4 .

Source: Seattle Police Department.

------------------------------ PROPERTY-, VIOLENT-CRIME STATS ------------------------------

The following are crime statistics for Washington state's three largest cities:

Property crimes

Larceny Vehicle

Year Burglary (Theft) Theft Arson .

Seattle 1995 7,695 35,976 6,944 247 .

1994 8,186 36,758 6,423 302 .

1993 9,247 39,176 6,819 320 .

Spokane 1995 2,966 11,000 932 74 .

1994 3,142 11,381 904 101 .

1993 2,699 10,965 730 74 .

Tacoma 1995 3,655 12,250 2,638 137 .

1994 3,653 11,971 3,262 195 .

1993 3,915 11,355 2,335 160 .

Violent crimes

Aggravated

Year Murder Rape Robbery Assault .

Seattle 1995 45 260 2,212 2,392 .

1994 69 318 2,536 3,615 .

1993 67 356 2,670 4,344 .

Spokane 1995 23 132 471 960 .

1994 7 101 490 1,090 .

1993 13 112 354 1,079 .

Tacoma 1995 28 171 925 2,099 .

1994 33 204 1,004 2,281 .

1993 31 191 1,015 2,204 .

Source: Seattle Police Department and Federal Brueau of Investigation.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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