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Violent Crime Rose 3.6 Percent in 1991, FBI Reports

By Robert L. Jackson
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

The nation's violent crime rate rose 3.6 percent last year, to a total of 1.9 million reported offenses, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Saturday in its annual report on U.S. crime.

The FBI also reported a continuing crime wave among juveniles. Over the decade ending in 1990, violent crime arrests of youths aged 10 to 17 grew by 27 percent.

The figures, based on records from 16,000 local law enforcement agencies, promptly stimulated a debate over the Bush administration's response to the problem.

U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr noted that over the last 10 years the violent crime rate, which is based on the number of reported crimes per 100,000 population, has not risen as sharply as it had the previous two decades. He attributed the slower rate of increase to tougher treatment of repeat offenders.

But Democratic Rep. Charles E. Schumer of New York, chairman of the subcommittee on crime of the House Judiciary Committee, said the new figures illustrated the administration's "total inability to deal with the crime problem." Schumer accused the White House of opposing gun-control legislation because of pressure from the National Rifle Association.

The FBI reported that for all age groups, the rate of violent crimes -- murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults -- increased by 24 percent from 1987 to 1991.

The rate of violent crime was highest in the nation's cities, which registered 1,015 offenses for every 100,000 population. The rate in suburban counties was 470 per 100,000, while in rural counties, 214 violent crimes were reported per 100,000.

Barr called the 1991 figures for violent crimes "unacceptably high," but said he found comfort that the increases over the last 10 years "are significantly lower than in the previous two decades."

He noted that "the violent crime rate increased by 126 percent between 1960 and 1970 and by 64 percent between 1970 and 1980, but only 22.7 percent between 1980 and 1990."

This, he said, "makes clear that the imprisonment of chronic violent offenders has a dramatic positive effect on the amount of violent crime," drawing the parallel that "in the 1960s and early 1970s incarceration rates fell and crime rates skyrocketed."

By contrast, said Barr, "when incarceration rates increased substantially in the 1980s, the rate of increase of crime was substantially reduced."

However, Schumer said the new figures "clearly illustrate the administration's total inability to deal with the crime problem."

"People are scared," said Schumer, "and these tragic numbers show that they have every right to be. This report proves that the carnage in the streets continues to get worse despite all the tough talk from the administration."

The juvenile crime rate overall -- including violent acts as well as non-violent burglary, larceny-theft and auto theft offenses -- was far higher for white youth than for minorities. The rate for white youths rose 44 percent during the decade, compared to a 19 percent increase among black youths and a decline of 53 percent in other racial groups. However, in the category of violent crimes, the rate for black youths was five time that of whites.

The number of youths of all races who committed murder using guns was up 79 percent in the decade.