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Buffalo is headed toward a fifth-consecutive year of declining criminal activity, police said Thursday, after looking at the crime statistics for half of 1997.

City crime dropped 2.5 percent because of fewer rapes and robberies, a homicide rate equal to the same six-month period in 1996 and an overall drop in property-related crimes.

Assaults and larcenies, however, increased.

The brightest spot in the six-month crime figures was the decrease in burglaries and stolen cars, police officials said.

"Since 1989, we've had over a 40 percent decrease in burglaries, and that's significant," Police Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske said.

"I think people are much more aware of crime," he added. "They are looking out for others and themselves. Neighborhood watch groups are more active, and people are using protection devices for their cars."

To help ensure that crime continues to decrease, police have expanded efforts to change the places where criminals are likely to strike, he said.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design is a program enabling police to review architectural drawings for proposed new buildings and renovation of existing ones to make recommendations on how to make the structures more crime resistant.

Community policing officers also conduct crime-prevention surveys of residential and business properties upon request to come up with suggestions on how to make the sites less inviting to crooks, Kerlikowske said.

City officers, as of June 30, had arrested 13,195 people, 5.7 percent more than the 12,488 individuals apprehended during the first six months of 1996.

One of the biggest crime drops this year was a 9 percent reduction in robbery, down to 1,118 from 1,228. Rapes dropped 2.6 percent to 111 from 114. There were 25 homicides, the same as last year.

Assaults increased by 8 percent, from 734 to 793, and larcenies rose by 6.9 percent, from 5,018 to 5,363.

There were 2,613 burglaries, compared with 2,997 in the first half of 1996. Auto theft, in the same period, dropped to 2,043 from 2,265.

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