WASHINGTON — Violent crime kept climbing in 2006, a top FBI official said Wednesday, previewing a report detailing nationwide increases in murders, robberies and other felonies for a second straight year.
The rising crime rate, in an FBI report expected next week, counters Justice Department attempts to tamp down violence by sending more funds to local police and studying U.S. cities for clues on how the increase began.
Asked if the report would show crime rates are still rising, FBI Assistant Director John Miller said: "I think you can anticipate it will." He declined to say by how much.
Miller said the FBI's findings will largely mirror those of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington think-tank that in March reported spikes in the number of big-city murders, robberies and gun crimes.
That survey "showed that there would be, in all likelihood, a continued uptick in violent crime, particularly among midsized American cities," Miller said during an interview taped for C-SPAN's Newsmakers program. "The data we're going to release Monday will contain no big surprises in that regard."
Preliminary numbers the FBI released in December showed violent crimes rose by 3.7 percent nationwide during the first six months of 2006.
Another blow for Gonzales
The crime hike marks the latest blow to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who has targeted neighborhood violence as a top priority. Gonzales took office in early 2005, when violent crime rose by 2.2 percent in the first annual increase since 2001.
A Justice Department study released earlier this month of 18 cities and suburban regions indicates youth violence, gangs and gun crime largely are to blame for the increasing rates. Gonzales also has promised to help local police combat gangs and guns with $50 million this year and up to $200 million in 2008.
Miller, answering questions from reporters for the New York Daily News and The Associated Press, said the FBI's focus on counterterror investigations since the 2001 attacks have inevitably resulted in fewer agents devoted to traditional crime fighting. "Certainly we've put fewer personnel into violent crime in the post-9/11 era because the demands have simply been that our top priority is to counter and prevent another terrorist attack," he said. "And to do that we had to increase resources there."
Miller also described "a high tempo of terrorist activity" globally that the FBI is monitoring. Asked if the FBI has identified any cells of al-Qaida terrorists in the United States, he answered: 'I can't tell you that. And that doesn't mean the answer is no."'
On another topic, Miller said an internal FBI review of its use — and abuse — of administrative subpoenas known as national security letters has uncovered "much of the same problems" revealed in a March audit by the Justice Department's inspector general. The damning audit found the FBI improperly used the letters to secretly obtain Americans' personal data from telephone and Internet companies.
"Since we are looking at the same system — but a much larger sampling than the IG did — we're finding the same problems within that system," Miller said. "As we expected to."
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