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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Violent crime down in Columbia in 2013

A spike in reported rapes may be explained by a new definition.

Violent crime in Columbia is down from 2012 and at its lowest index in 20 years, according to 2013’s Uniform Crime Reporting data from the FBI.

Though larcenies in Columbia increased in the last year, property crimes as a category were also below average in 2013.

“Crime is on a long, slow decline and has been since the ‘80s,” said Michael Trapp, co-chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence. “This year’s data shows what we’ve seen in general.”

Despite the dip in crime, some high-profile incidents in the past two years have sparked community concern, Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Latisha Stroer said. Groups include the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence, formed in 2013 and the Columbia Community Non-Violence Initiative, formed in 2012.

“There was so much media attention to specific crimes when they occurred,” Stroer said. “We were checking crime reports every week and we kept telling the community, it’s perception versus reality; crime was not rising.”

Trapp does not believe that the Mayor’s Task Force necessarily had much influence over 2013’s numbers.

“Crime responds to large macro forces,” said Trapp. “I don’t think the task force has affected it much yet.”

Although violent crime was down as an overall category, the number of reported forcible rapes was the highest it has been in almost 30 years by 26 counts. Stroer said that this is due to the changes made to the UCR’s definition of rape.

The new definition expands the term to include bodily violations of both genders, any part of the body by any object or body part, and offenses that do not include physical force.

Before 2013, the definition of rape was “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” The definition was 80 years old, according to an FBI news release.

“The new, more inclusive definition will provide us with a more accurate understanding of the scope and volume of these crimes,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in the release.

Stroer said that the new definition was put into effect Jan. 1, 2013, and that the large spike in counts of rape reported in 2013 is not necessarily reflective of an increase in sexual assaults in Columbia.

“We can’t really compare numbers until we have one or more years under this new definition,” Stroer said.

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