Murders in the United States dropped by nearly 6 percent in the first half of the year after rising for four straight years, the FBI reported yesterday. Almost all other crimes...

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WASHINGTON — Murders in the United States dropped by nearly 6 percent in the first half of the year after rising for four straight years, the FBI reported yesterday. Almost all other crimes declined, too.

Overall, violent crime was down 2 percent in the first six months of the year compared with the same period of 2003, according to preliminary figures provided to the FBI by more than 10,700 state and local police agencies. Violent crime includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

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Property crimes — burglary, larceny and motor-vehicle theft — also declined about 2 percent, and arsons fell by nearly 7 percent.

The only crime that increased was rape, which was up 1.4 percent nationwide and 6.5 percent in cities with populations of 1 million or more.

Experts aren’t sure why crime overall is falling. James Lynch, professor at American University’s Department of Justice, Law and Society, said one factor could be the increased focus on homeland security.

“You’re after terrorists, but you’re picking up other things,” Lynch said. “That’s the only thing I can think of, because the economy certainly isn’t robust.”

The latest FBI report does not include raw totals for categories of crimes, only percentages of increase or decrease compared with the first half of 2003. The final report for all of 2004 will be released next fall.

Based on last year’s figures, though, it can be estimated that there were about 400 to 500 fewer murders in the first half of the year.

The drop was seen in each region of the country, with the South seeing the biggest decline, 8.3 percent. It was even more pronounced in cities with more than 1 million residents — 8.7 percent.