Violent crime increased in Vancouver last year, bucking three straight years of decline nationwide and a statewide rate that remained flat.
Homicides, rapes and aggravated assaults drove Vancouver’s uptick, according to FBI figures for cities released Monday. However, most increases were small, and the city’s overall crime rate dropped from 42.2 crimes per 1,000 residents in 2008 to 39.9 crimes per 1,000 residents last year.
Furthermore, homicides, rapes, robberies, burglaries and auto thefts are all at or below yearly averages, according to five-year trend lines analyzed by the police department.
“On first blush, it looks like we’re in the zone we would expect to be given a city of our staffing and size,” said Kim Kapp, a Vancouver police spokeswoman.
Local homicides rose from zero to six, reported rapes from 105 to 117 and aggravated assaults from 324 to 375, according to the FBI.
The number of homicides was about average for Vancouver. The city had seven murders in 2007 and six in 2009.
The six homicides in 2009 were the shooting deaths of siblings killed in the driveway of the home they shared; a sister stabbed by her mentally ill brother; an apparent drug deal gone bad; a wife shot by her husband in a murder-suicide; and a home-invasion robbery that ended with a killing.
“Even though they’re all horrible, they were explainable,” Kapp said. “These were not considered random.”
As far as rapes and aggravated assault reports were concerned, Kapp said rises in those categories, too, could largely be rationalized because they involved “relationships or associations in many cases” rather than “random occurrences that constitute a huge public safety threat.”
There were 12 more rapes in 2009 than in 2008.
“In the big picture, the increase of one per month is not great,” she said. “The danger of statistics is reading too much into them.”
Statewide, the rate of 331 violent crimes per 100,000 people was essentially unchanged in 2009. However, the rate of property crimes fell.
Vancouver paralleled the drop with decreases in robberies, larceny-thefts and auto thefts.
Vancouver motor vehicle thefts decreased sharply, from 1,208 to 899.
Robberies and larceny-theft crimes were down, from 176 to 158, and from 4,248 to 4,159, respectively. Arsons dipped too, from 61 to 49.
In Oregon, the violent crime rate was the lowest since 1969 at 254.7 per 100,000 residents. Oregon property crimes fell 10.2 percent, according to the FBI.
Portland crime decreased in six of seven categories included in the FBI data. The exception was rape reports, which rose from 250 to 252.
National rate continues to fall
The nation’s crime rate dropped an additional 5 percent last year, continuing a 20-year trend that has cut the incidence of major crimes nearly in half.
Crime experts have cited several possible explanations for the falling crime rate, including better policing, a swelling of the prison population, the decline of the crack cocaine epidemic and an aging population. But regardless of the reason, crime fell sharply during the 1990s and has declined gradually since then.
Last year, the rate of murders and manslaughter was 5 per 100,000 Americans, down from 9.8 in 1991. Overall, the rate of violent crimes fell dramatically during that time, from a rate of 758 per 100,000 in 1991 to 429 last year. This number includes homicides, rapes, robberies and assaults.
Common property crimes also declined sharply over the two decades. For example, the FBI counted 1.66 million thefts of motor vehicles in 1991. Last year, it counted 794,616. This represents a drop of 164,000 vehicle thefts from 2008.
“This is good news. It should get more attention,” said John Conklin, a Tufts University sociologist who has written widely on crime and its causes.
He said the recent declines in crime contradict predictions that a bad economy and high unemployment would lead to an increase in thefts, robberies and other crimes. Conklin studied the steep decline in crime rates in the 1990s and concluded the most important cause was the increase in the prison population.
“If you lock up a lot more people, you will probably see reduced crime,” he said. “That’s doesn’t necessarily mean I recommend a ‘lock-them-up’ policy. We have the world’s highest rate of incarceration.”
McClatchy-Tribune news services contributed to this report.