Crime Continues to Decline

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While high crimes and misdemeanors may be on the rise in Washington, around the country major crime appears to be down -- again. The FBI reports that serious crime dropped 5 percent nationwide in the first half of 1998, continuing a decline that began six and a half years ago. All seven types of major crime declined, led by an 11 percent drop in robberies and an 8 percent drop in murders. "These continuing declines are more evidence that we have turned an historic corner on crime," proclaimed Attorney General Janet Reno.

Why that corner has been turned -- indeed, whether it really has -- is a major subject of contention among experts. "There are many reasons," says TIME correspondent Edward Barnes, "but demographics is probably the most important." The baby boom generation has simply started aging beyond the most crime-prone years. Additional factors include more sophisticated and more effective law enforcement, says Barnes. "Police have analyzed what kinds of crimes serious criminals engage in routinely," he explains, "and they are nabbing suspects in their regular work, grabbing them while they engage in lesser daily crimes before they move on to more serious ones." But most worrisome, says Barnes, is the political factor: "Police have learned that there is an incentive in an era of declining crime rates to downgrade the crimes they encounter and report." That ought to be a crime.