Does the national rise in homicides last year signal a return to rising crime rates? Experts are cautious about how much ro read into the newly released FBI Uniform Crime Report. “A lot of cities are experiencing an uptick (in violent crimes), but one or two years don’t tell the whole story,” Miami Police Chief John Timoney told USA Today.
Miami had 66 homicides in 2002, and reports 74 so far this year. Timoney says that his department, like others across the country, has been unable to fill critical vacancies because of budget problems. That has left police vulnerable to shifts in local crime patterns. Federal funds to hire officers “has dried up, and police departments are trying to make do with what they have,” Timoney says.
“The main fact now is that the trend is impressively flat,” criminologist Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University told the New York Times. Blumstein and other experts were somewhat surprised that the crime rate did not rise higher because of factors like a poor job market, a diversion of police resources to fighting terrorism; budget deficits that led to cutbacks in social services and prisons; and a growth in the number of young people in their prime ages for committing crime.
The Washington Post quotes K. Jack Riley, head of the Public Safety and Justice Program at Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, Ca., as saying that many criminologists are concerned about the potential for significant crime increases in coming years because of police budget cutbacks, a focus on homeland security rather than local crime, and demographic shifts that are putting more troubled juveniles and released prisoners on the street. “I would suspect that we’re probably going to see movement upward in the ’03 numbers,” Riley said. “People are sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
The FBI report showed differences among major cities in homicide totals. Of the 20 places with the most murders, 2 showed no change, 7 were up and 11 were down, Blumstein noted. St. Louis had the largest drop, a decline of 25 percent. But Oakland, Calif., murders rose 29 percent. Los Angeles and Chicago had the largest number of murders: 654 in Los Angeles, 647 in Chicago.