New York bucks falling crime trend

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The Independent US

US law enforcement agencies and politicians of both major parties rushed to claim the credit yesterday after the FBI released preliminary figures showing another impressive fall in crime.

Overall, the incidence of serious crime decreased by 7 per cent in 1999, with an 8 per cent drop nationwide in murder and robbery. This was the eighth successive year in which recorded crime has fallen - the longest sustained fall on record - encouraging some experts to hazard that the crime wave of the late 1960s might finally be at an end. But despite the sunny overall picture, there were indications that the years of such large falls could be tailing off. While serious crime of all varieties was down not just nationwide, but in each region and every type of area - rural, suburban and cities of all sizes - the fall was less marked in cities with populations of 500,000-plus.

Murders in such large cities fell by only 2 per cent, compared with falls of up to 14 per cent in smaller cities, 12 per cent in suburbs and 17 per cent in rural areas. Prof James Fox, of Northeastern University in Boston, said that big cities had been the first to register big falls in crime and would be the first to "reach the bottom".

There were also 16 cities or major conurbations which saw an increase - in some cases, of a third or more - in the number of murders. Among thoseregistering an increase was New York City, which had until recently been held up as a model of what "zero tolerance" - tough, community-based policing - can achieve in making streets safer. The number of murders in the city last year rose from 633 to 671, an increase of 6 per cent. The steepest rise was in Colorado Springs (from 8 to 25), with Honolulu (from 17 to 37), and Sacramento (from 31 to 54), second and third. If there is a pattern, it is that they match areas where the population is growing fastest: Colorado (Colorado Springs and Denver); San Diego and San Antonio;Phoenix and Albuquerque; and Charlotte and Savannah.

The 6 per cent increase in murders in New York could have political implications. Much of the kudos built up by the mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, rests on the sharp fall in crime during his tenure. A rise could affect his chances in the Senate race against Hillary Clinton.