A new survey by the Justice Department shows violent crime dropped a record 10.4 percent nationally last year, continuing a trend that began in 1994.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics' victimization study said the drop was the biggest in the survey's 26-year history.

Statistics by the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) showed a similar drop in violent crime of 10.9 percent from 1998 to 1999.

But early numbers for this year in Utah show the steady decline in violent crime since it peaked in 1997 has started to level off. For the first six months of 2000, violent crime was up 2.22 percent with the number of homicides increasing 21.05 percent.

Last year, rape, robbery, homicide and aggravated assault all dropped, according to BCI. Forty-three people were murdered in Utah last year, the lowest number of homicides in nearly two decades.

"The homicide rate has been going down since 1995, except for a blip in '98. But overall it's down," said Adrienne Sowards, BCI criminal information and compliance specialist.

And Sowards warns the statistics showing a leveling off for this year can be misleading. "Because there are so few murders in the state, a difference of one of two murders makes the percentage go up a lot," she said.

There were 19 murders in Utah during the first six months of 1999. That number rose to 23 during the same time period this year.

Sowards also noted that some police agencies will wait until the end of this year to submit any data for the BCI report. A more accurate count of violent crimes in Utah probably won't be known until the year ends.

The 1999 survey figures released by the Justice Department confirmed preliminary FBI figures for last year released in May.

The statistics bureau's survey, which did not involve Utah residents, is the government's broadest measure of crime because it is based on regular interviews throughout the nation with more than 77,000 people over age 11. Thus it collects data not only on crimes reported to police but also on the larger number that go unreported.

The FBI data, to which Utah contributes, is based on reports made to 17,000 police agencies nationwide.

Nationally, the property crime rate fell 8.9 percent from 1998 to 1999. In Utah, BCI numbers showed it dropped 6.9 percent. The number of reported arsons, burglaries, motor vehicle thefts and larcenies all dropped in Utah in 1999.

Nationally, the survey estimated there were 28.8 million violent and property crimes in 1999, the lowest figure since the survey was begun in 1973, when it found an estimated 44 million crimes.

In Utah, BCI reported 102,993 violent and property crimes last year, a 5.7 percent decrease from 1998.

Sowards said the state's survey is based on police reports while the Justice Department's survey comes from random phone calls. "Not all rape victims report their crimes. Or you may have your bike stolen and not bother telling police," said Sowards. But when the Justice Department randomly calls and asks if you have been the victim of a crime, Sowards said, that's when some people say they have.

Contributing: The Associated Press.

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