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Reported violent crime fell 6% in 2010

WASHINGTON -- Violent crime dropped 6 percent in 2010, the fourth straight year-to-year decline, while property crime fell for the eighth straight year, down 2.7 percent, the FBI reported yesterday.

Nationwide, about 1.2 million violent crimes were reported to authorities last year and about 9 million property crimes.

An aging population, better policing and continued high rates of imprisonment for criminals are helping to drive down crime rates, criminologists say.

Robbery fell 10 percent, rape 5 percent, and murder, non-negligent manslaughter and aggravated assault more than 4 percent.

Every category of property crime offenses decreased in 2010. The largest decline, 7.4 percent, was for motor vehicle thefts. Burglaries decreased 2 percent and larceny thefts declined 2.4 percent.

"The last thing we should do is get complacent and say 'mission accomplished,' and so let's transfer resources away to other areas," said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University. "You don't solve the crime problem. You only control it. "

Attorney General Eric Holder said federal prosecutors and agents have worked with state and local law enforcement to increase community participation in protecting neighborhoods. He said that law enforcement agencies have targeted gang leadership in communities in states from Florida to New York, and from Tennessee to North Carolina.

Since the economy turned downward in 2007, the expectation had been that crime would increase with unemployment.

For decades, a connection between the two has been a commonly held assumption. But the Joint Economic Committee in Congress issued a report in 1984 saying a 14.3 percent increase in joblessness in 1973-74 led to a 1.7 percent increase in homicides.

Noted criminologist James Q. Wilson wrote in 1985 that "even the strongest evidence of a crime-economy link does not explain more than a very small portion" of the year-to-year changes in crime rates.

The figures for 2010 are once again undercutting the idea of such a link.

"The connection between crime and the economy is an illusion held by people reading too many French novels. They remember Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's starving children and assume the same thing should be going on in the U.S. today," University of Cincinnati professor John Eck said yesterday.

Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that the number of violent crimes fell by a surprising 12 percent in 2010 and that there were 3.8 million violent crimes last year. But its survey of households includes crimes both reported and not reported to law enforcement. The FBI report includes homicide, arson, commercial crimes and crimes against children under age 12. The FBI report captures only crimes reported to law enforcement, while excluding sexual assaults and simple assaults.

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