U.S. Criminal Homicide Rate at a 40-Year Low

WASHINGTON, D.C., The U.S. criminal homicide rate decreased in 2004, dropping to its lowest level in 40 years. According to the FBI’s annual compilation of crimes, the rates for all seven major crimes declined last year, and the overall violent crime rate reached a 30-year low.

There were 391 fewer murders nationwide in 2004 compared to the previous year. Last year’s total of 16,137 murders works out to 5.5 deaths for every 100,000 people.

Of 19 large cities with more than 100 murders each in 2003, 13 experienced declines in 2004, but six recorded increases. Chicago had a decline of 150 criminal homicides, and Washington saw a decline of 50. Both cities accounted for 51 percent of the net nationwide drop. The number of criminal homicides in St. Louis, however, increased by 39.

The South, which has 36 percent of the nation’s population but 43 percent of its murders, saw larger declines in the murder rate than any other region. Its rate declined 5 percent. Officials say the decrease could be attributed to declines in Atlanta, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans.

Rape was the only crime to show an increase (0.8 percent).

The U.S. violent crime rate is at a 30-year low, and, according to experts, several factors may have contributed to the decline:

– People age 50 or older make up the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. Members of this segment generally commit fewer crimes than their younger counterparts.

– More than 2 million people are in U.S. prisons (a record).

– The demand for crack shrank in the ’90s.

– Approximately 100,000 police officers were added to police departments in the ’90s.

– Crackdowns increased on petty crime.

– Abortion was legalized in 1973, which produced fewer unwanted children and therefore less criminals.

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