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Crime rising from 1990s' record low
WASHINGTON — Crime across the USA continued to tick upward in 2002 for the second straight year after record lows in the 1990s, according to a new FBI report that cites increases in rapes, homicides and burglaries.

The number of rapes reported by U.S. law enforcement agencies last year was up 4.7% to 95,136; homicides were up 1% (to 16,204) and burglaries increased 1.7% (to 2.2 million), the FBI national crime report says. Vehicle thefts were up 1.4%, but other property crimes — larceny-thefts and robberies — were down slightly, the report says.

Despite the increases in major crimes, the overall number of crimes reported in 2002 was still 16% lower than that reported to the FBI a decade ago.

The FBI report, widely regarded as an indicator of national crime trends, represents data drawn from more than 17,000 state and local public-safety agencies across the USA. Law enforcement analysts say the figures for 2002 suggest that besides the inevitable rise from historically low crime rates of the late 1990s, law enforcement agencies are beginning to feel the effects of a down economy while police grapple with additional duties stemming from local homeland security plans.

Police officials in several cities say the increase in violent crimes reflected in the FBI's report for 2002 has continued this year, but some officials say the number of violent incidents remains relatively low compared with a decade ago.

"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 says.


Miami had 66 homicides in 2002, and already has had 74 this year. Timoney says that his department, like others across the country, has been unable to fill critical vacancies because of budget problems. That, Timoney says, often has left police vulnerable to shifts in local crime patterns.

"The federal money (once available to hire new police officers) has dried up, and police departments are trying to make do with what they have," Timoney says.

Nevertheless, he says, crime will have to continue increasing substantially to emerge as the national issue it was during the presidential elections of 1988, 1992 and 1996.

Kevin Watson, spokesman for the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, sees a building problem in increasing homeland security duties for local police.

"These people are being stretched thin as emphasis is being shifted from policing communities to protecting potential targets in their areas," he says.

Watson says he also is concerned about how police departments will fare as state and local governments' budgets get tighter.

"When states are looking at sweeping budget cuts, some of them have been looking at public safety, like cutting time off prison sentences and reducing the terms of probationers," Watson says. "But short-term savings don't always match up to long-term security. Local governments are going to have to weigh those trade-offs very carefully."

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