Less federal money has meant fewer police officers in many cities.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Americans were robbed and victimized by gun violence at greater rates last year than the year before, even though overall violent and property crime reached a 32-year low, the Justice Department said Sunday.
Experts said these increases buttress reports from the FBI and many mayors and police chiefs that violent crime is beginning to rise after a long decline. Bush administration officials expressed concern but stressed that it was too soon to tell if a new upward trend in violence had begun.
Last year, there were two violent gun crimes for every 1,000 individuals, compared with 1.4 in 2004, according to the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics. There were 2.6 robberies for every 1,000 people, compared with 2.1 the year before.
A preliminary FBI report in June on crimes reported to police showed a 4.8-percent increase in the number of murders and 4.5-percent increase in the number of robberies in 2005.
Trouble for politicians?
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.
Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty listened to complaints about dwindling federal anti-crime aid from several dozen mayors and police chiefs at a public meeting in Washington on Aug. 30. Several days later, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told reporters that cities will have to work harder but should not count on more federal money because of growing demands in the fight against terrorism.
Nevertheless, Gonzales arranged a private meeting in New York last Thursday with three state police executives and the police chiefs of Los Angeles, Miami and Providence, R.I., The Associated Press learned.
One of them, Providence's Dean Esserman, came away "impressed at how much he listened. He wasn't there to defend himself. He could have used the time to preach; instead he used it to hear our concerns."
Esserman said all but few cities have fewer police officers now than in 2001, with big reductions in New York, Boston and Detroit "because of the loss of federal money." A Clinton administration program paid for local departments to hire community-oriented police officers, but the Bush administration stopped the money for such hiring.
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.
Numbers in report
The statistics bureau's victimization report found that the overall violent crime rate was unchanged in 2005 from the year before, at just over 21 crimes for every 1,000 individuals over age 12.
The property crime rate fell in 2005 from 161 crimes to 154 for every 1,000 people because of a drop in household thefts. Both rates were the lowest since the survey began in 1973.
McNulty noted the record-low rates but said "we are concerned about" in increase in the violent firearm crime rate. "Whether the increase ... marks a change in the trend toward reduced firearms victimization rates cannot be determined from one year's data," McNulty added.
He said some cities are seeing violent crime increases and noted the department has several programs in which federal agents join state and local officers combating gangs and drug abuse.
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