In a reverse of a two-year trend, the FBI reported yesterday that violent and property crimes declined in 2007 from the previous year nationwide as well as in Philadelphia.
The bad news: Even though Philadelphia's violent crime and homicide rates went down last year, the city still ranks last in those categories among the nation's 10 largest jurisdictions.
"We have a long way to go," Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said yesterday, noting that decreases in crime rates that began before his arrival in January had continued to hold true.
The FBI's preliminary Uniform Crime Report showed a 1.4 percent decrease nationwide in the number of violent crimes: murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Murders were off by 2.7 percent last year.
Property crimes, which include burglary, larceny-theft and motor-vehicle theft, decreased 2.1 percent from 2006 nationally.
The decreases were most dramatic among the nation's largest cities.
The 10 police jurisdictions with populations greater than one million people reported a 9.8 percent decrease in homicides and a 3.7 percent decrease in violent crime.
Philadelphia reported a 3.7 percent decrease in homicides and a 7.4 percent decrease in violent crime.
"It's a starting point," Ramsey said.
He said that the crime plan he announced in January would speed up the trends. "We look at 2007 and ways we can improve on those numbers," he said.
So far this year, the city's closely watched homicide tally was down 20.4 percent, from 172 killings to 137. Ramsey said that violent crime was down 7.3 percent this year.
Last year's nationwide decline followed two years of increases, which came after a decade-long decline from the high point around 1991.
"Over a long period of time, you expect to see some fluctuations," said FBI spokesman Paul Bresson. "It's always welcome to see a decline."
The bureau discourages comparing crime rates among cities of different sizes because conditions and demographics vary dramatically. Several cities, including Washington, did not report their 2007 figures by the deadline to be included in the preliminary report, but should be included in the final tally that is to be released in the autumn, said Bresson.
Philadelphia's violent crime rate and homicide rates are the worst among the nation's 10 largest cities.
Philadelphia had a murder rate of 27.2 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2006, compared with 27.8 last year - and 18.9 in 2002, its best recent year.
Houston, the second-most murder-prone city in the top 10, had 16.2 murders per 100,000 last year. Dallas, number three on the list, counted 16.1 murders per 100,000.
Some smaller cities reported far worse rates: New Orleans reported 95 murders per 100,000 population; Baltimore 45; Detroit 44; St. Louis 40.
Ramsey, who promised a 25 percent reduction in homicide by the end of his first year, said improvements take time.
"It doesn't happen overnight," said the commissioner, who was chief for nine years in Washington. "We're looking for steady progress."
This year, in the nine police districts that the department has targeted for enforcement under Ramsey's crime plan, murders are down 38 percent, shootings are down 28 percent, and serious felonies are down 8.2 percent, Ramsey said.
"It's too soon to say we're successful," he said, "but we're working very hard to bring down the numbers."