WASHINGTON The number of U.S. violent crimes increased in 2006 for the second consecutive year, with more than 17,000 murders nationwide, the FBI said on Monday.
Criminal justice experts have blamed the crime increases on gangs, youth violence, more gun crimes and fewer police on the beat. The experts have been unsure whether the numbers for 2006 represent a temporary upswing or the start of a long-term trend.
The FBI reported an estimated 1.4 million violent crimes nationwide in 2006, an increase of nearly 2 percent from the previous year. The number of murders committed last year increased by a similar amount from 2005.
An estimated 90 percent of the murders last year occurred in metropolitan areas, and firearms were used in nearly 70 percent, the FBI said.
Reacting to the latest statistics, Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said that violent crime remained a challenge in some communities.
"Today's FBI report shows that violent crime continues to trouble our nation," added Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.
"Whether it's the increase in violent street gangs, the scourge of illegal drugs or the dangers our children face online, crime threatens American families today," he said.
According to the report, law enforcement authorities made more arrests for drug abuse violations in 2006 -- an estimated 1.9 million arrests or about 13 percent of the total number of arrests -- than for any other offense.
A group supporting the regulation of marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol criticized the record number of U.S. marijuana arrests last year.
"The bottom line is that we are wasting billions of dollars each year on a failed policy," said Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Despite record arrests, marijuana use remains higher than it was 15 years ago, when arrests were less than half the present level."
The FBI in June released preliminary crime numbers for 2006. Monday's report contained the final numbers, which were slightly higher for murders and violent crimes than those released in June.