The overall rate for violent crimes - murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault - rose 1.3% in 2005 but remained far below the high set in 1991, when homicide rates in many cities soared amid a sluggish economy and gang wars. Last year, in fact, the rate for rapes alone fell 2.2% and was the lowest it had been in more than 20 years.
The jump in the overall rate for violent crimes, however, gave ammunition to several police officials who have complained that the U.S. government has allowed anti-crime initiatives to languish as it has focused on anti-terrorism efforts here and abroad.
"This report should serve as a strong wake-up call," said Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske in Seattle, which recorded a 25% increase in gun-related crime last year. "We better realign our focus to the war going on in some of our cities."
Edward Flynn, police commissioner in Springfield, Mass., said local police agencies have yet to recover from the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which led the federal government to redirect tens of millions of dollars in grants away from policing projects and toward homeland security programs.
"Police can't be good homeland security partners if they cannot do their core missions," said Flynn, whose city of 155,000 had 18 homicides last year, double the number from 2000. "People need to see this as a sign for concern."
Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said Monday that it was "too soon" to determine whether the FBI report represented a significant departure from the annual declines in crime recorded during much of the past decade.
During a briefing at the Justice Department, McNulty said anecdotal evidence from the first part of this year suggests there "might be a rise in violent crime in some jurisdictions." However, he noted that the overall crime rate - for violent and property offenses - remained low compared with the past 30 years.
McNulty said the recent increases in violent offenses could reflect a convergence of factors: a rise in gang membership, the spread of highly addictive methamphetamine and the increasing numbers of young people who are 18 to 24, the age group that generally commits the most crimes.
"The terrorism mission," he said, "has not cost us anything" in fighting crime domestically.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a national association of law enforcement officials, said the FBI report was "not all gloom and doom." He cited declines in reported property crimes.
However, Wexler said members of his group are concerned about increasing violence across the nation. "We believe we're on the front end of a tipping point on violent crime."