WASHINGTON - Violent crimes and property crimes declined in 2007 from the previous year, the FBI reported yesterday, but one expert warned the figures could mask rising murder rates among young black men.
In preliminary figures for crimes reported to police, the bureau said the number of violent crimes declined by 1.4 percent from 2006, reversing two years of rising violent crime numbers. Violent crime had climbed 1.9 percent in 2006 and 2.3 percent in 2005.
Property crimes were down 2.1 percent last year, the largest drop in the last four years.
The largest declines were in vehicle theft, down 8.9 percent; in rape, down 4.3 percent, and murder, down 2.7 percent.
The crime trends were not uniform. Murders, for instance, were down in cities of more than 250,000, including an enormous 9.8 percent drop in cities of more than a million residents. But murders rose in some small cities - up 3.7 percent in cities of 50,000 to 100,000, up 1.9 percent in cities of 100,000 to 250,000, and up 1.8 percent in cities under 10,000. Historically, national murder trends have begun in the largest cities and moved over several years to smaller cities.
Because the FBI preliminary figures do not contain the detailed age, race, and gender breakdowns available in the final report later in the year, they may mask a growing murder rate among black male teenagers and young adults, said James Alan Fox, professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University.
"Violence is down among whites of all ages and both genders; it's up among black males, not black females," he said. "When you blend all the national numbers together you fail to see this divergence. There are many more whites in the population, so their decline can dwarf the increase among young black males."