WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Murders and auto thefts fell sharply in the United States in 2009, extending the downward trend in violent and property crimes, according to preliminary statistics released by the FBI on Monday.
It was the third straight annual decline in violent crimes and seventh straight annual decline for property crimes, which occurred despite a weak economy, which is often linked to spikes in criminal activity.
Each region of the country experienced a drop in crime, with the southern United States experiencing the largest decline -- a 6.6 percent drop -- according to the FBI.
It did not provide a reason for the overall decline, which came as the economy started to show signs of growth after one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression. Experts and politicians often link a sour economy with higher crime.
Murders fell 7.2 percent, while forcible rapes decreased 3.1 percent. Cities with 500,000 to 999,999 inhabitants saw violent crime, which also includes manslaughter and robbery, drop the most among city groupings, down 7.5 percent.
There was an increase in the number of murders in cities with populations of 25,000 to 49,999, jumping 5.3 percent. Additionally nonmetropolitan counties experienced a small increase as well, up 1.8 percent, the statistics showed.
In the nonviolent crime category, motor vehicle theft dropped 17.2 percent, while burglaries fell 1.7 percent, according to the preliminary figures released by the FBI. Arson also fell 10.4 percent in 2009.
Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by David Alexander and Paul Simao