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Eugene sees less crime in 2001, FBI says.

Byline: The Register-Guard and news service reports

Eugene bucked a national trend with decreases in major crimes last year, according to FBI statistics released Monday.

Preliminary FBI numbers show overall crime down in Eugene by 4.9 percent and violent crime down by 5.3 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of major crimes in the United States rose for the first time in a decade, spurred by increases of 3.1 percent in murders and 5.9 percent in car thefts, the FBI said.

That trend was reflected in Portland, with an overall 5.5 percent increase in crime, mostly driven by a rise in property crimes. Violent crimes dropped in Portland by 20 percent.

In Salem, overall crime increased by 11 percent, with a slight drop - 1 percent - in violent crime.

The FBI statistics don't include some crimes, such as identity theft, which saw a 60 percent jump last year in Eugene.

Yearly statistics should be read with some skepticism, Eugene Police Capt. Steve Swenson said. The number of murders or property crimes can vary widely from year to year, he said.

Only trends that hold up across time indicate real change, he said.

"If I see something that's happening for three years in a row, then I start to take a hard look at the problem or breathe a little easier," he said.

The decrease in violent crime in Oregon communities is part of a longer trend and may indicate the effectiveness of Measure 11 sentencing laws, Swenson said.

"Measure 11's been pretty unpopular with folks, but it has had the effect of putting away serious violent offenders for a long time," he said.

Policing programs, such as the prostitution and graffiti task forces, and community outreach also may contribute to the decreases, Swenson said.

If the national numbers hold up, the 2 percent increase in major crimes in 2001 would be the first since 1991, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Major crimes rose 2.7 percent between 1990 and 1991 and had dropped every year since.

In 2001, every category tracked by the FBI report except one - aggravated assaults - showed increases, with property crime up 2.2 percent and violent crime up 0.3 percent.

Car theft increased the most, a 5.9 percent jump, followed by robbery at 3.9 percent, murder at 3.1 percent, burglary at 2.6 percent, arson at 2 percent, larceny at 1.4 percent and rape at 0.2 percent. Aggravated assault dropped 1.4 percent.

Regionally, only the Northeast figures reflected fewer crimes. The largest increase was in the West, followed by the South and Midwest, the report said.

Democrats immediately pounced on the report as proof that President Bush should continue financing the Community Oriented Police Services, or COPS, program. The White House has asked Congress to slash the program by more than $500 million in its current budget.

``To propose the elimination of the single most successful crime-fighting program in the federal government, at a time of rising threats of terror and increasing street crime, is sheer folly,'' said Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y.

Democrats claim that COPS was partly responsible for the drop in crime in the 1990s. Critics dispute Democrats' claims of success, saying the program fell short of its goal of 100,000 new police officers on the street.

The Clinton administration created COPS to put more officers on the streets. It's popular among local police departments and many lawmakers in Washington. The original program expired in 2000, but Congress kept money flowing in fiscal years through the fiscal year ending this coming Sept. 30.

``For the first time in 10 years, crime is up,'' said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., head of the Senate Judiciary crime subcommittee. ``The administration's response, ending the COPS program which added over 100,000 police to our streets and slashing funds for law enforcement, is precisely the wrong answer, especially when the FBI is shifting its focus away from violent crime to terrorism.''

FBI Director Robert Mueller has told Congress that he plans to shift some of his agency's enforcement resources from fighting crime to combating terrorism.

``As we shift resources to protect our country from terrorist activity, law enforcement officials must not neglect to combat traditional criminal activity, too,'' said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary crime subcommittee. ``Safety from criminals is as important as safety from international terrorists.''

The FBI report excluded the more than 3,000 deaths from the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The report said that had those deaths been counted as homicides, the number of murders would have increased by 26 percent from 2000.

Criminologists have been warning for some time that surges in the numbers of teen-agers and released prisoners, along with recent economic declines, threatened a return to rising crime.

Homicides increased sharply in many cities last year, including a jump of 67 percent in Boston. Murders also increased at smaller rates in Chicago and Los Angeles but continued to decline in New York City, excluding the victims of the World Trade Center attack.

MORE INFORMATION

More than 17,000 city, county and state law enforcement agencies voluntarily submit data each year for the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Final figures will not be available until this fall.

ONLINE: To see more of the report online, check out www.fbi.gov/
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Title Annotation:Report: Nationwide, however, the numbers paint a worse picture.; Crime
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 25, 2002
Words:894
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