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Spike in violent crime tied to access to guns

The Baltimore Sun

Violent crime rose by double-digit percentages in cities across the country over the past two years, reversing the declines of the mid- to late 1990s, according to a new report by a prominent law enforcement association.

While overall crime has been declining nationwide, police officials have been warning of a rise in murder, robbery and gun assaults since late 2005, particularly in midsize cities and in the Midwest. Now, they say, two years of data indicate the spike is more than an aberration.

"There are pockets of crime in this country that are astounding," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which is releasing the report today.

"It's gone under the radar screen, but it's not if you're living on the north side of Minneapolis or the south side of Los Angeles or in Dorchester, Mass."

Local police departments blame a number of factors: the spread of methamphetamine use in some Midwestern and Western cities, gangs, high rates of poverty and a record number of people being released from prison.

But the biggest cause, they say, is easy access to guns and a willingness, even an eagerness, to settle disputes with them, particularly among young people.

The research forum surveyed 56 cities and sheriffs' departments - as small as Appleton, Wis., and as large as Chicago and Houston. Overall, from 2004 to 2006, homicides increased 10 percent and robberies 12 percent. Aggravated assault increased at a relatively modest 3 percent, while aggravated assaults with guns rose 10 percent.

Baltimore's homicides decreased by 0.36 percent for the period. Montgomery County saw a 5.56 percent rise, and Prince George's County remained flat.

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