SAN FRANCISCO--Despite a recent increase in the U.S. murder rate, it is not yet clear whether the country is facing a new wave of violent crime, says Carnegie Mellon University Professor Alfred Blumstein, an internationally known expert in criminology and crime research.
The number of U.S. murders and robberies dropped by more than 40 percent between 1993 and 2000, and the rate of these crimes has been essentially flat since then. But the FBI's Uniform Crime Report showed a 2.5 percent increase in murders and a 2.9 percent rise in robberies in 2005, which has raised some concerns.
"The numbers indicate that this increase is not part of a widespread national trend," said Blumstein, who presented his findings here at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting. "While some cities are experiencing rising rates, other cities are seeing a downturn in violent crime."
The recipient of the 2007 Stockholm Prize in Criminology, Blumstein is the J. Erik Jonsson University Professor of Urban Systems and Operations Research at Carnegie Mellon's H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management. He noted the recent increases aren't particularly significant and that the national crime rate remains near levels not seen since the 1960s.
"If the increases in violent crime continue over the next one or two years, then there might a shift in the trend," he said. "Looking at it today, it might just be a blip."
One number that concerns Blumstein is the 9.7 percent rise in robberies during the first six months of 2006, with a large majority of major U.S. cities reporting an increase. While no research has been conducted to determine its cause, Blumstein noted some factors that could be contributing to the change:
- Increasing frustration by high school dropouts or even graduates over the sense of their future in the country's demanding economy;
- The reduced size of urban police forces and redirection of police resources to deal with terror or the terror threat;
- A reduction of social service programs on the state and local levels as a result of cuts in federal funding for such programs.
"The problem is that we could have listed these same factors two to four years ago, but we didn't see a major shift in crime during that time," Blumstein said. "And it's too early to tell if we will see a shift this time."