Attorney General Wants Study of U.S. Cities' Rising Crime Rates

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales offered no new crime-fighting initiatives Monday, promising only to study local crime rates in selected cities to see why homicides and other violent criminal activity is on the rise nationally.

In a speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Gonzales said the Justice Departments' role for now is to look for trends in gang violence, drug trafficking, and how inmates released from prison may have contributed to the increase.

Nationally, violent crime rose 2.2 percent last year, the first increase since 2001.

"We need to figure out the whys behind the numbers — whether the story is good or bad," Gonzales said in a 16-minutes speech. He did not specify which cities would be studied.

He acknowledged that local law enforcement agencies have had more crime-fighting problems to juggle since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. "It wasn't like we didn't have a full plate already," he said.

Gonzales' speech was greeted by a standing ovation from the estimated 3,000 local and state police at the Boston convention. The group also was to hear from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Mayors and police chiefs recently reported seeing spikes in violent crime for 2006, calling for greater support from federal law enforcement. Last month, Gonzales said cities will need to work harder to combat a spike in crime but shouldn't count on more federal funding, citing growing demands in the war on terrorism.

Officials said the study mentioned by Gonzales will be rolled out in three phases: looking at crime increases in cities, analyzing those results for any trends, and identifying federal programs that can help.

It was not clear whether more federal funding will be available for cities, but officials said that "new initiatives" could be created, if necessary.

The government will analyze at least five cities, and potentially dozens more, to get a broad enough picture of crime trends, officials said.

Last month, the FBI found there were 1.39 million violent crimes — including rape, murder, robbery and aggravated assault — reported in the United States in 2005, up from 1.36 million the previous year.

However, Justice officials said Monday that even with the recent surge, the overall national violent crime rate remains lower than any year ever measured except for 2004.