Violent crime on the increase, says FBI report

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The Independent US

The United States is experiencing its biggest jump in violent crime in 15 years, according to new figures from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The increase in murders, armed robberies and assaults is especially acute in mid-sized, Midwestern cities like Milwaukee and Cleveland, while many of the urban areas more commonly associated with violent crime, like New York, are seeing their crime rates remain stable or even decrease.

The FBI offered no explanation for the trend in its preliminary report for the 2005 calendar year. Various experts cited by the US media suggested relatively benign, organisational explanations such as the shift in resources from day-to-day beat policing to counter-terrorism and homeland security.

It is also well-known, though, that the Midwest has seen an explosion in recent years in demand for highly addictive drugs, from crystal methamphatine to the prescription painkiller oxycontin. With that explosion has come a spike in gang activity. There may also be a link between the crime rate and the disparities in the United States between rich and poor, which have grown markedly in recent years.

The FBI's figures showed a 2.5 per cent increase overall in violent crime, and a 4.8 per cent increase in the murder rate. Among the cities hardest hit were Milwaukee (a 40 per cent increase in homicides), Cleveland (38 per cent), Houston (23 per cent) and Phoenix (9 per cent).

The new figures mark a reversal in trends over the past decade and a half. The long economic boom of the Clinton years saw a marked improvement in the safety of American cities which has, for the most part, carried over into the Bush era.

Justice Department officials, ever conscious of the political liabilities created by a rising crime rate, sought to minimise the significance of the trend based on just one year's figures and said crime rates remained low by historical standards.

The spike in violent crime was not reflected in the crime rate more generally. Crimes against property - burglary, theft, arson and so on - decreased by about 1.6 per cent from 2004.