Terrorism Fatalities to Spike Homicide Rate

Decade-long national decline expected to be dramatically reversed because of two hours of carnage on Sept. 11

MONDAY, Sept. 24, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- It took less than two hours on Sept. 11 to reverse a decade-long decline in the U.S. homicide rate.

The FBI recently hailed 1999's preliminary statistics of 16,000 homicides as a 6 percent decrease from the previous year, continuing the downward trend begun in 1991. The figures for 2000 are not yet available.

Based on the latest figures, the more than 6,400 people missing and feared dead in the World Trade Center in New York City, along with the fatalities at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., will boost the country's homicide rate possibly another 33 percent.

"We get our data from the state and local agencies," explains Maryvictoria Pyne, chief of the communications unit for the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services in Clarksburg, W.Va. "The FBI is not the organization that classifies these crimes." Local and state agencies classify an incident, and then all the data the FBI publishes is a compilation of that, she adds.

"So in the case of the World Trade Center disaster, it would be up to the city of New York to make this classification, and they would use the Uniform Crime Reporting Guidelines to do so," Pyne says.

The Uniform Crime Reporting Guidelines consider homicide to be any intentional killing of one person by another. Deaths caused by negligence, accidents, suicides or those deemed justifiable are not considered homicides.

Does the carnage of Sept. 11 meet the guidelines for murder?

"Yes, it does," Pyne says.

There's precedence for classifying acts of terrorism as murder, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The 168 victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing were reported as part of that year's homicide rate, a spike that was explained in a footnote, a spokeswoman for the Bureau explained.

But defining the recent terrorism even further is not so clear cut. Pyne is not sure whether Sept. 11's carnage qualifies as a hate crime. The definition most widely used by law enforcement agencies is from a U.S. Department of Justice publication Hate Crimes Data Collection Guidelines. These guidelines define such a crime as: "Any criminal offense committed against a person or property which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic/national origin groups or sexual-orientation group."

"Again, we would have to get that message from New York City and New York State, as well as Arlington and Virginia," Pyne says. "I can tell you that would be a lot more problematic, the hate crime definition. That would have to be a judgment call on the part of local officials."

Calls to the New York Police Department and the Arlington, Va., police department on how the crimes would be classified were not returned.

On the plus side, people seem to be becoming a little nicer to each other. A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department says, anecdotally, the crime rate is down in L.A.

The same is true in San Francisco, says Dewayne Tulley, a spokesman for the city's police department. Crimes like homicide, rape and robbery have gone down since Sept. 11, he says. "Fewer major crimes have been reported," Tulley says.

The City of Brotherly Love says those kinds of crimes have also dropped slightly.

"We looked at crime rates from the previous week's Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and compared them to Monday the 10th through Thursday the 13th," says Officer Carmen Torres, of Philadelphia's Police Department. "The difference is pretty small -- a 4 percent decrease over those four days in crimes like murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft and auto theft."

Atlanta reports a small drop in 911 calls, according to Atlanta Police department spokesman John Quigley. "The calls have dropped from about 3,700 to 3,500, and that's not a dramatic drop, just a slight one."

What To Do

For more on homicide statistics, see the Criminal Justice Information Services or the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

But if you want to look behind the numbers at how victims' families feel, read this article from The Atlantic.

SOURCES: Interviews with Maryvictoria Pyne, chief of the communications unit, FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services, Clarksburg, W.Va.; Dewaynne Tulley, spokesman, San Francisco Police Department; John Quigley, Atlanta Police Department; Carmen Torres, officer, Philadelphia Police Department; Uniform Crime Reporting Guidelines; June 26, 2001, National Vital Statistics Report; Hate Crimes Data Collection Guidelines
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