FBI reports U.S. crime drop, fewer murders in 1996


                                                   Release at 6 p.m. EDT

                                                      By James Vicini


WASHINGTON, June 1 (Reuter) - The U.S. crime rate fell in 1996 for the fifth year in a row as murders dropped 11 percent from the 21,600 killings in

1995 and violent crimes showed the biggest decline since 1961, the FBI reported Sunday. The federal law enforcement agency said murders registered

the greatest decline of the various offenses that make up the violent crime category.


In New York City, the number of murders fell to 986 last year from 1,177 in 1995; Chicago had 789 homicides, a decrease from 824; Los Angeles had

709 murders, down from 849, and Detroit had 428 murders, 47 fewer than in 1995. Washington was one of the few big cities to report a sizable increase

in murders, with 397 homicides in 1996, up from 361 in 1995. President Clinton sought to claim credit for the latest crime rate reduction.


``We have a comprehensive anti-crime plan, and it is working. More community police, tougher punishments and fewer guns in the hands of criminals

are making a difference,'' he said in a statement.


Attorney General Janet Reno hailed the numbers as the largest drop in violent crime since 1961, when the FBI began releasing statistics for the 50 states.

``Violent crime has fallen for several years, but we cannot let up,'' she said. Acting Deputy Attorney General Seth Waxman partly attributed the decline in

crime to the government's efforts to increase community policing.


He told reporters at the Justice Department the decrease also has occurred during the same time the number of prisoners has increased sharply.


``I think there are some reasons to believe that as we get smarter, more aggressive and more capable with respect to detecting, prosecuting and punishing

serious criminal violations, the incidence of criminal activity goes down,'' he said.


The FBI said violent crimes declined 7 percent last year while so-called property crimes showed a 3 percent decrease. The total number of serious crimes

reported to the police nationwide last year fell 3 percent.


For other violent crimes besides murder, the number of robberies decreased by 8 percent last year, aggravated assault went down 6 percent and rapes fell

by 3 percent. For property crimes, burglary and motor vehicle theft showed a 5 percent decrease, followed by a 2 percent fall

in larcenies. The number of arsons was unchanged last year. The FBI said cities in all population groups reported declines in serious crime.


The largest decease of 6 percent occurred in big cities with more a million people. Rural areas reported a 3 percent decline while suburban counties

registered a 2 percent drop. Regionally, the West had an 8 percent decrease in serious crime, followed by the Northeast at 7 percent and the Midwest at 2

percent. The South, however, had a 2 percent increase from the 1995 total.


The FBI's preliminary numbers were based on crimes reported to 16,000 police agencies across the country. Final figures will be released later in the