updated 12/15/2003 6:29:35 PM ET 2003-12-15T23:29:35

The nation’s murder rate rose slightly in the first half of the year despite a 3.1 percent drop in overall violent crime, the FBI reported Monday.

There were 1.1 percent more murders during the first six months of 2003 compared with the same period a year earlier — the only category of violent crime to show an increase from January to June.

The biggest increase was in the Northeast, where there were 4.3 percent more murders than a year ago. There were also more homicides in the South and West, with only the Midwest showing a decrease of 1.9 percent.

Rape, assault down
Still, the total number of reported crimes of murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault dropped 3.1 percent from year to year, the FBI said in its preliminary look at the nation’s crime picture in 2003.

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports for the first six months of the year are based on information collected from 9,908 state and local law enforcement agencies.

Aggravated assaults were down 4.4 percent, with forcible rapes dropping 4 percent and robberies less than 1 percent.

Property crimes dropped by 0.8 percent compared with the year before, although motor vehicle thefts were up slightly at 0.9 percent. Other property crimes are burglary and larceny.

The number of arsons, which is measured separately, dropped 10 percent from year to year, with every part of the country seeing fewer criminal fires set in the first half of 2003.

rural areas safer
The drop in violent crime was most pronounced in rural areas, which had a reduction of 5.7 percent. Violent crime was down in cities of 250,000 or more inhabitants by 4 percent and down in the suburbs by 1.1 percent.

Violent crime also dropped slightly between 2001 and 2002, but murders rose about 1 percent during that span, according to an FBI report in October.

Property crime rates changed very little in cities and suburbs in the first half of 2003, but rural counties experienced a 2.5 percent decrease.

There was a marked regional disparity in motor vehicle thefts, with all regions of the country showing a decrease from January to June except the West, where they rose by 7.2 percent.

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