FBI: Violent crime up in 2016 for second year in a row

The FBI's annual report on Crime in the United States shows a modest rise in violent offenses nationwide -- a trend to some observers, an aberration to others.

Atlanta was among the major U.S. cities to see a spike in homicides in 2016, attributing to a 4.1 percent increase nationally from the previous year. But other cities, such as New York, reported declines. Murders were up 8.6 percent nationwide, according to the  FBI, at a rate of 5.3 per 100,000 people, the highest since 2008.

Preliminary figures from the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association show a decline in the number of cities reporting a rise in homicides through the midway point of 2017. Among the municipalities reporting a drop in murders, Atlanta has seen one of the sharpest declines, from 83 as of Sept. 16, 2016 to 56 on that same date this year.

Aggravated assaults and burglaries, often viewed as the more effective barometer of crime since they affect more people, are down six percent and 26 percent, respectively, from this time a year ago, Atlanta police statistics show.

“Crime has been trending downward in Atlanta for several years now,” said APD spokesman Carlos Campos. “Since 2009, shortly before Mayor (Kasim) Reed took office, major crimes are down 36 percent throughout the city.”

In a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, who was named the city's top cop at the end of last year, credited the decline in homicides  to organizational restructuring, a change in focus from number of arrests to quality of arrests and, most critically, getting guns off the streets.

Elsewhere in metro Atlanta, violent crime spiked in four counties -- significantly in Clayton, modestly in Gwinnett and minimally in Cobb and Fulton. DeKalb County experienced a slight drop, according to the FBI data. Murders in Clayton more than doubled, from 18 to 39. Cobb was the only county to record fewer murders in 2016 from 2015, though the increases in Gwinnett,  DeKalb and Fulton were slight.

Crime is still way down, locally and nationally, from the previous decade. In Atlanta, since 2009, violent crime is down 36 percent, APD statistics show.

In a statement, the Justice Department said the FBI crime report "reaffirms that the worrying violent crime increase that began in 2015 after many years of decline was not an isolated incident."

Critics say Attorney General Jeff Sessions is using the data to push get-tough policies that run counter to bipartisan criminal justice reforms pushed during the Obama Administration.

"For the sake of all Americans, we must confront and turn back the rising tide of violent crime. And we must do it together," Sessions said in a statement. "The Department of Justice is committed to working with our state, local, and tribal partners across the country to deter violent crime, dismantle criminal organizations and gangs, stop the scourge of drug trafficking, and send a strong message to criminals that we will not surrender our communities to lawlessness and violence."

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