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Buffalo continued to have an above-average rate of violent crime for midsize cities in 1996 while remaining slightly below average in terms of property crime, according to an analysis of FBI Uniform Crime Reports data.

The analysis, released over the weekend, showed that Buffalo ranked seventh out of 20 similarly sized cities in terms of violent crime last year, down from sixth a year earlier, but only because of a change in the way that assaults are categorized.

Meanwhile, Buffalo maintained its 11th-place ranking for property crime.

The statistics showed Buffalo ranking sixth or seventh among the 20 cities in every major crime category except two -- assault and larceny -- in which the city ranked unusually low.

Crime fell in Buffalo and in 13 of the other midsize cities in 1996, which is why it is no surprise that Buffalo's rankings stayed steady.

"I think that when you look across the various cities over one year, you don't see tremendous shifts," said Buffalo Police Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske. "The most important thing for us to look at is the trend over a number of years, and we're looking at 1997 being the fifth year of a continuous decrease" in crime in Buffalo.

Buffalo's 6.4 percent decline in violent crime, excluding assault, was the ninth-biggest drop among the 20 cities. Pittsburgh led the way with a 23.6 percent drop in violent crime. Arlington, Texas, finished at the other end of the spectrum with a 15.6 percent increase.

In property crime, Buffalo's 1.4 percent decline ranked it 13th among the 20 cities.

Neither Kerlikowske nor Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark could explain Buffalo's 12th-place ranking in aggravated assaults among the cities.

Tampa led the midsize cities in assaults, with a rate nearly four times higher than Buffalo's rate of 50 per 10,000 residents. The cities with the fewest assaults, Pittsburgh and Colorado Springs, reported about 28 per 10,000 residents.

The assault figure is perhaps the least telling of all the FBI crime statistics. Only in 1996 did the FBI give police departments a uniform definition of aggravated assault, saying it must involve use of a weapon or physical force.

Previously, individual police departments had varying descriptions of the crime. Police departments in New York State had a much looser definition of aggravated assault, which is why assaults in Buffalo fell by half in 1996 once the city began using the FBI's definition of the crime.

Kerlikowske and Clark were only slightly less perplexed about Buffalo's 16th-place ranking in larceny. They noted that larcenies often entail major shoplifting or the misuse of credit cards or bank accounts, the sorts of crimes that would seem to be more common in cities with larger retail and business sectors.

Despite the city's 16th-place ranking in larcenies in 1996, the number of larcenies actually ticked upward by 1.7 percent last year. Increases also were reported in rape (4.2 percent) and motor vehicle theft (6.9 percent).

Meanwhile, Buffalo's murder rate fell by 3.2 percent, its robbery rate by 7.5 percent and its burglary rate by 11.2 percent.

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