WASHINGTON - Violent crime in the United States rose for the second year in a row, a government report said Thursday, indicating that the nation's two-decade decline in crime has ended.
The 2012 National Crime Victimization Survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 26 of every 1,000 people experienced violent crime, a 15% increase in how many people reported being victims of rape, robbery or assault. Property crime - burglary, theft and car theft - rose 12%.
"We've plateaued. At this point, I don't think we're going to see any more decreases in crime," said criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University in Boston. "The challenge will be making sure crime rates don't go back up."
Even so, after two decades of falling crime rates, violent crime remains at historically low levels. Crime rates have dropped steadily since 1993, when 80 of every 1,000 people reported being victims of violent crime. The homicide rate declined 48% from 1993 to 2011.
Keeping more criminals behind bars longer and developing better crime-fighting technology helped drive down crime rates, Fox said.
"Going back 20 years or more, policing was done blindly," Fox said. "Now, due to technology, police can be much more proactive in dealing with crime problems before they get out of hand."
The report follows the FBI's 2012 Uniform Crime Report, released in September, which documented more than 1.2 million violent crimes nationwide - about 1% more than in 2011. For 2011, data from the victims survey also showed an increase in violent crime: up 17% from 2010, the sharpest rise in two decades.
The victimization survey, which collects data from 162,940 people over age 12, found that 26 of every 1,000 people were victims of crime in 2012, up from 23 in 2011. Most of the increase is made up of simple assaults and crimes that were not reported to police. That information is not included in the Uniform Crime Report, which is considered the definitive measure of crime in the United States.
Taken together, the figures indicate a slight shift in direction, said James Lynch, chairman of the University of Maryland's criminology and criminal justice department.
"It's not exactly a crime wave. It's more like a flattening out," Lynch said. "I don't see this as terribly alarming, but more as something to pay attention to."
The data found that about 70% of the violent crimes were simple assault. Since the survey involves interviewing victims, homicide is not included. The domestic violence rate held steady, the survey found.
Budget cuts may lead to more increases if policing is cut, Fox said.
"You don't solve the crime problem. You only control it," he said. "When you let up on the gas, bad things will happen. This plateauing and inching up a bit is just a warning to us that we have to keep on investing in crime prevention and crime control."
Donna Leinwand Leger, USA TODAY