Government: Violent crime rose 18 percent in 2011

Increase, due to assaults, follows record low in '10

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Local angle

Although there is no survey data for all crimes in Vancouver or Clark County, reported crimes decreased in 2011, according preliminary figures released by the FBI in December.

Reported violent crimes in Vancouver decreased in the first half of 2011, compared with the same period one year earlier, the FBI said.

The decrease in Vancouver reflected the national trend: a 6.4 percent decrease in violent crimes, which include murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault, the FBI reported. In Vancouver, those crimes were down by 8.3 percent from the 336 reported in 2010, the FBI said.

According to data from the Vancouver Police Department, violent crimes — including assault, domestic violence assault, homicide, rape and robbery — was up 10 percent from 2010 to 2011. Violent crime without domestic violence assault dropped 3 percent in the same time frame, police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said.

—Paul Suarez

WASHINGTON — Violent crime unexpectedly jumped 18 percent in 2011 from 2010, the first rise in nearly 20 years, and property crime rose in the same time period for first time in a decade, according to a new report. But academic experts said the government data fall short of signaling a reversal of the long decline in crime nationwide.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reported Wednesday that the increase in the number of violent crimes was due to an increase in the number of assaults, which rose 25 percent, from 4 million in 2010 to 5 million in 2011. The incidence of rape, sexual assault and robbery remained largely unchanged, as did serious violent crime involving weapons or injury, the report said.

Property crime was up 11 percent in 2011, from 15.4 million in 2010 to 17 million, according to the bureau's annual national crime victimization survey. Household burglaries rose 14 percent, from 3.2 million to 3.6 million. The number of thefts jumped by 10 percent, from 11.6 million to 12.8 million, in the same period.

The statistics bureau said the increases in 2011 were so large primarily because the those crime totals were compared to historically low levels of crime in 2010. Violent crime has fallen by 65.5 percent since 1993, from 16.8 million to 5.8 million this past year.

"2011 may be worse than 2010, but it was also the second-best in recent history," said Northeastern University criminology professor James Alan Fox.

"These simple assaults are so low-level in severity that they are not even included in the FBI counts of serious crime," Fox said. FBI crime data only counts aggravated assaults.

"You can have percentage changes that seem quite large, but unless you put them in a longer-term perspective, you can sometimes misinterpret the overall seriousness of the problem," said Chris Melde of Michigan State University's school of criminal justice. "I would caution against forecasting future crime trends based on a one-year fluctuation."

Retired Redlands, Calif., police chief Jim Bueerman said the growing number of assaults in 2011 might reflect a need by law enforcement to spend more time and attention on what's happening in the nation's schools. Bueermann, who is also president of the Police Foundation, a nonprofit police research organization, said the bureau's crime victimization reports can be a useful tool for police because "you get a different snapshot that's just as valuable" as looking at reported crime statistics.

The victimization figures are based on Census Bureau surveys of a large sample of Americans to gather data from crime victims. The results are considered the government's most comprehensive crime statistics because they count crimes that were and were not reported to the police. Historically, less than half of all crimes, including violent crimes, are reported.

In May, the FBI's preliminary crime report for 2011, which counts only crimes reported to police, concluded that while overall crime dropped again in 2011, the declines slowed in the second half of the year. In the FBI report, violent crime fell 6.4 percent in the first six months of that year. But for the entire year, the decline was much less, just 4 percent. The number of reported property crimes fell 3.7 percent in the first half of last year, but for all of 2011, went down just 0.8 percent.

The FBI will release a new crime report at the end of this month.