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5th consecutive year nation's violent crimes decrease

WASHINGTON -- The number of violent crimes reported to police decreased 3.8 percent last year to 1.2 million, the fifth straight year of declines, the FBI reported yesterday.

Meanwhile, the total number of property crimes reported to law enforcement agencies went down by 0.5 percent to 9 million, the ninth consecutive year that figure has fallen.

Property crimes resulted in estimated losses of $156.6 billion.

The latest declines mark the continuation of a nearly two-decade drop in crime levels -- a trend that almost no one in the field of criminology predicted, said John Caulkins, a Carnegie Mellon Heinz College professor.

The trend, said Caulkins, is a reflection of a range of many factors, including policing practices.

A drop in the number of people in the peak crime-age category of teens to 25-year-olds also contributed to the crime reductions, Caulkins said, but "if this were only a story of demographics, we would never have had this kind of substantial decline."

Government figures released two weeks ago said violent crime has fallen by 65 percent since 1993.

Twenty years ago, "there was a lot of hand-wringing about high crime levels" but "we're way past the possibility that this is a lucky conversion," Caulkins said.

The FBI's data showed that the South accounted for 41.3 percent of violent crime, while the West accounted for 22.9 percent. The Midwest claimed 19.5 percent of the cases and the Northeast, 16.2 percent.

According to the FBI's data for last year:

14,612 people were murdered, down 14.7 percent from 17,128 in 2007.

83,425 people were raped, down 9.4 percent from 92,160 in 2007.

354,396 people were robbed, down over 20 percent from 447,324 in 2007.

751,131 people were assaulted, down 13.3 percent from 866,358 in 2007.

The FBI said firearms were used in two-thirds of the nation's murders last year, as well as in two out of every five robberies and in one out of five aggravated assaults.

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