WASHINGTON—Murders in the United States jumped 4.8 percent last year, and overall violent crime was up 2.5 percent for the year, marking the largest annual increase in crime in the United States since 1991, according to figures released Monday by the FBI.
Robberies nationally increased 4.5 percent, and aggravated assaults increased 1.9 percent, while the number of rapes last year fell 1.9 percent, the report said.
Crime increased most noticeably in several categories in many mid-sized cities and in the Midwest.
Law enforcement authorities and criminologists reacted cautiously, uncertain whether the preliminary statistics for 2005 signal the end of a long downward trend in crime or simply a one-year anomaly.
Senior Justice Department officials struggled to make sense of the new figures, and said Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had ordered them to try to find out what may account for the increases.
Richard Hertling, deputy assistant attorney general for legal policy, termed the new crime figures “troubling,” but stressed the numbers are preliminary, and do not lend themselves to easy conclusions.
“We really don’t know what’s driving this,” Hertling said. “We need to be be careful not to overinterpret or overreact.”
Several experts cited an aging population and stiffer sentencing as key factors that contributed to the gradual reductions in crime throughout the 1990s and into the start of the new century. But some leading criminologists say those factors are changing and they are not surprised by the new numbers.
“There is an ‘echo boom,’ with an increasing number of late adolescents, particularly blacks and Latinos,” said James Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University. “Also, more people incarcerated in the ‘80s are now being released to their neighborhoods, and some are back to their old ways and old gangs,” Fox said.