Crime in the United States fell last year to the lowest level since records started being compiled 30 years ago, the US Justice Department has said.
There were 5.3 million violent crimes in 2002
About 23 million violent and property crimes were reported in 2002, compared with some 44 million in 1973, according to the annual survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The decline was seen in every category of
crime measured by the department.
Attorney General John Ashcroft attributed the drop to the work of police and prosecutors.
But some crime experts say tougher prison sentences and the building of additional prisons are more likely explanations.
And others believe a mature and less violent illegal drug trade and a drop in gang membership have been contributory factors.
The past decade also a saw a rise in the reporting of non-fatal crime to the police, according to the survey which is based on interviews with a representative sample of about 76,000 US residents.
"Everyone thought the numbers would bottom out and then go back up, but it hasn't happened," Professor James Lynch from the American University Center for Justice, Law and Society said.
Even in recent years, crime levels have been dropping.
Violent crimes fell from 10.5 million incidents in 1993 to 5.3
million in 2002.
Crime against property over the same period was also relatively lower, falling from
319 crimes per 1,000 households to 159.
Rape or sexual assault was down 56%, while robbery was
down 63%, and aggravated assault down 64%.
The decline in violent crime was experienced by all demographic
groups, the survey said.
Seven per cent of all violent crime victims faced an offender
with a firearm last year.
Last year, car theft was the crime most likely to be reported, while property theft was the least likely.
However there has been a slight rise in the number of murders, which are measured separately by the FBI.
In 2002, 16,110 people were murdered - a 0.8 percentage point rise on 2001, according to preliminary statistics based on police reports from across the country.