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U.S. violent crime down for fifth straight year

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By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer

(CNN) – Violent crime in the United States fell for the fifth consecutive year in 2011 with murder, rape and robbery all going down, although crime remains a serious problem in many urban areas, the FBI said on Monday.

The report of all crimes reported to police nationwide showed slightly more than 1.2 million violent incidents nationwide, while property crimes hit a nine-year low.

Compared with 2010, the new figures show violent crime down 3.8 percent overall. Property crime was down 0.5 percent.

Among violent incidents reported to police, murders were down about 0.7 percent, robberies dropped 4 percent, aggravated assaults declined 3.9 percent, and forcible rapes were down 2.5 percent.

Despite the positive trend, crime remains a serious problem in many urban pockets riddled with gangs, drugs, and poverty.

There were 14,612 murders last year, on average one every 36 minutes. That’s a small decline from 14,722 in 2010, but it’s a decrease of nearly 17 percent from a decade ago.

Most victims were male and in cases where race was known, 50 percent were black and 46 percent were white.

Statistics showed 514 murders in New York and 431 in Chicago.

Guns were used in two thirds of the nation’s murders last year, 41 percent of robberies, and 21 percent of aggravated assaults, the report showed.

The closely watched Uniform Crime Reports do not include explanations for the consolidated figures, and the FBI does not comment on the data.

However, criminologists point to a variety of factors for the continuing decline in overall violence. They cite a more settled crack cocaine market, an increase in incarcerations, an aging population, data-driven policing, and changes in technology that include a big increase in surveillance cameras.

James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, said crime has continued to decline from a peak in the 1990s but now is decreasing at a slower rate.

“I call it the limbo stick effect,” Fox said. ” You can only go so low. You’re never going to get down to zero crime.”

The FBI crime statistics differed from a telephone crime survey released by the Justice Department early this month. That report actually showed crime increasing last year, but attributed the change to a jump in simple assaults.

Fox said many of those assaults described to interviewers were non-injury pushing and shoving incidents not reported to any law enforcement agencies.

He also noted the increase that the Justice Department reported was from an all-time low in the crime rate the previous year, suggesting crime is entering a low level where police officials hope it will stay for some time.