The biggest falls were registered in murders and robberies, each of which declined by 7 per cent compared with the previous year. But the number of police officers killed in the line of duty rose sharply - from 56 to 65 - and the murder and violent crime rates in the United States are still extremely high compared with those of other developed countries.
Administration officials were cautious about claiming credit for the improvement. While applauding the figures, the Attorney General, Janet Reno, warned against any relaxation of vigilance. "These decreases are real and go beyond a statistical blip," she said. "But we have not won the war on crime. We cannot let up."
She called for particular efforts to be made against domestic violence, drugs, juvenile crime and the illegal possession and use of guns.
From South Korea, where he was on an official visit, President Bill Clinton also gave a cautious response. "Crime remains a serious problem and our work is far from done," he said.
Introducing the figures, the FBI noted that there was a burglary every 13 seconds, a robbery every minute, a rape every five minutes and a murder every 30 minutes. Experts have offered two main explanations for the decline: a reduction in the number of young males in the 15-30 age group and the easing off of the crack-cocaine epidemic that afflicted many inner cities in the Eighties.
Politicians on the right, however, and the senior police officers aligned with them, claim the figures reflect the results of much tougher law and order practices. The "zero-tolerance" policy pioneered by the Mayor of New York, Rudolf Giuliani, has been increasingly copied by many other big cities, including Washington, Detroit and Philadelphia.Reuse content