According to preliminary FBI statistics, violent crimes overall continued to decline in 2003, although there was a slight increase in murder rates.

Overall, reported incidents of murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault dropped 3.2 percent compared with 202. Murders rose 1.1 percent.

Attorney General John Ashcroft cited tougher law enforcement methods and stiffer sentences for habitual criminals for the sharp drop in crimes.

The statistics are based on data reported by 11,921 United States law enforcement agencies through the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program. The final report for 2003 has not yet been released.

For more information visit www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htm.

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