updated 6/12/2006 9:37:58 AM ET 2006-06-12T13:37:58

Murders, robberies and aggravated assaults in the United States increased last year, spurring an overall rise in violent crime for the first time since 2001, according to FBI data.

Murders rose 4.8 percent, meaning there were more than 16,900 victims in 2005. That would be the most since 1998 and the largest percentage increase in 15 years.

Murders jumped from 272 to 334 in Houston, a 23 percent spike; from 330 to 377 in Philadelphia, a 14 percent rise; and from 131 to 144 in Las Vegas, a 10 percent increase.

Despite the national numbers, Detroit, Los Angeles and New York were among several large cities that saw the number of murders drop.

The overall increase in violent crime was modest, 2.5 percent, which equates to more than 1.4 million crimes. Nevertheless, that was the largest percentage increase since 1991.

The FBI data, compiled from reports by more than 12,000 law enforcement agencies, does not contain overall crime numbers in any category nor does it offer any explanation for the changes. The FBI’s final annual crime report comes out in the fall.

Criminal justice experts said the statistics reflect the nation’s complacency in fighting crime, a product of dramatic declines in the 1990s and the abandonment of effective programs that emphasized prevention, putting more police officers on the street and controlling the spread of guns.

Funding issues?
“We see that budgets for policing are being slashed and the federal government has gotten out of that business,” said James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston. “Funding for prevention at the federal level and many localities are down and the (National Rifle Association) has renewed strength.”

Still, Fox said, “We’re still far better off than we were during the double-digit crime inflation we saw in the 1970s.”

Robberies were up 4.5 percent and aggravated assaults 1.9 percent, according to preliminary data. Alone among violent crime categories, the number of rapes fell 1.9 percent.

Violent crimes peaked at 1.9 million in 1992 and fell steadily through the end of that decade. The number has been relatively stable for the past six years.

Crime last year increased in all regions, although the 5.7 percent rise in the Midwest was at least three times any other region’s. These states make up the Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Fox cautioned against reading too much into year-to-year changes in individual cities, saying some differences result from random variation and marked swings the previous year. Also, some large statistical increases result from some small numerical changes.

In Hartford, Conn. for example, murders jumped more than 50 percent, from 16 to 25.

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