WASHINGTON -- Crime levels fell across the board last year, extending a multiyear downward trend with a 5.5 percent drop in 2010 in the number of violent crimes and a 2.8 percent decline in the number of property crimes.
Year-to-year changes the FBI released Monday in its preliminary figures on crimes reported to police also showed declines in all four categories of violent crime in 2010. All categories for property crime went down as well.
"In a word, remarkable," said Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox. In his view, the declines signify success for aggressive law enforcement and corrections programs and comprehensive crime prevention efforts. He said the crime levels could easily rise if the current environment of state and local budget cutting extends to law enforcement measures that are working.
Some experts are puzzled. Expectations that crime would rise in the economic recession have not materialized. The size of the most crime-prone population age groups, from late teens through mid-20s, has remained relatively flat in recent years.
"I have not heard of any good explanations for the good news we've been experiencing in 2009 and 2010," said professor Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz School of Public Policy. "I hope the trend continues, and I'm going to keep searching for answers."
Crime in Pittsburgh mirrored the nationwide trend, with violent offenses dropping nearly 9 percent in 2010 compared with 2009. Property crime, too, was down 4.2 percent, according to the statistics.
Only Pittsburgh's homicides, burglaries and arsons spiked slightly in 2010. There were 55 homicides in 2010, which police officials have said is about the average number the city sees yearly, compared with just 39 in 2009. Eight more arsons were reported in 2010 than the year before, as well as 138 more burglaries.
Although city homicides were up, Pittsburgh's gun assaults fell to 457 last year from about 613 in 2009, an "encouraging" statistic, Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said. Driving the city's crime rate are offenses such as theft, he said, which nonetheless fell about 9 percent in 2010.
Chief Donaldson attributed the overall crime decline to a combination of police work and community programs that have developed in recent years. He said the bureau's "intelligence-led" policing has helped detectives become proactive, and added that "the community and the police are working together better than they have in prior years."
Nationwide, violent crime last increased in 2005. U.S. property crimes last increased in 2002.
The FBI reported that violent crime fell in all four regions of the country last year -- 7.5 percent in the South, 5.9 in the Midwest, 5.8 percent in the West and 0.4 percent in the Northeast. The bureau's preliminary statistics for 2010 are based on data from more than 13,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Nationally, murder and non-negligent manslaughter declined 4.4 percent, forcible rape decreased 4.2 percent, robbery declined 9.5 percent, and aggravated assault was down 3.6 percent.
The downward trend for murder and non-negligent manslaughter was especially pronounced in the nation's smallest cities, where it went down 25.2 percent for cities with fewer than 10,000 people. Murder actually rose 3 percent in cities with populations of 250,000 to half a million. In New York City, the number of murders and non-negligent manslaughter cases rose from 471 to 536, up 13.8 percent.
Among property crimes, motor vehicle theft showed the largest drop in 2010 -- 7.2 percent -- followed by larceny-theft, which was down 2.8 percent, and burglary, a decline of 1.1 percent.
Staff writer Sadie Gurman contributed to this report.