The 5.3 percent drop in violent crime was accompanied by a 4.6 percent drop in property crime, marking the seventh consecutive year that nonviolent crime has dropped.
Each of the violent crime categories decreased from 2008, as did each of the property crime categories.
Murder fell by 7.3 percent, robbery by 8 percent, aggravated assault by 4.2 percent and rape by 2.6 percent. Motor vehicle theft was down by 17.1 percent, larceny by 4 percent and burglary by 1.3 percent.
Data for the FBI's report comes from 17,985 governmental units and universities and colleges representing over 96 percent of the nation's population.
The FBI had expected an overall drop in crime numbers, but the scope of the decrease is surprising, CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reported in May when the preliminary data was released.
Criminologists say crime often goes up in periods of economic stress, fueled by unemployment and police budget cuts.
But, that did not happen 2009.
James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, said that while the downward trend is encouraging, the economy "could come back to haunt us" because of a nearly 10 percent drop per capita in police budgets in the past few years.
"There is a connection between the economy and crime rates, but it's not that when the economy is bad, people go out and commit crime," said Fox. "When the economy is bad, there are budget cuts. Less is spent on youth crime prevention and crime control on the street."
Some highlights released by the FBI on Monday:
- Nationwide in 2009, there were an estimated 1,318,398 violent crimes reported.
- Each of the four violent crime offenses decreased when compared with the 2008 estimates. Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter and robbery had the largest decreases: 7.3 percent and 8.0 percent, respectively. In addition, aggravated assault decreased 4.2 percent, and forcible rape declined 2.6 percent.
- Nationwide in 2009, an estimated 9,320,971 property crimes were reported. Each of the property crime offenses also decreased in 2009 when compared with the 2008 estimates. The largest decline was for motor vehicle thefts: a 17.1 percent decrease from the 2008 figure. The estimated number of larceny-thefts declined 4.0 percent, and the estimated number of burglaries decreased 1.3 percent.
- Collectively, victims of property crimes (excluding arson) lost an estimated $15.2 billion in 2009.
- The FBI estimated that in 2009, agencies nationwide made about 13.7 million arrests, excluding traffic violations.
- The 2009 arrest rate for violent crimes was 191.2 per 100,000 inhabitants; for property crime, the rate was 571.1 per 100,000 inhabitants.
- By violent crime offense, the arrest rate for murder and nonnegligent manslaughter was 4.1; forcible rape, 7.0; robbery, 42.0; and aggravated assault was 138.2 per 100,000 inhabitants.
- By property crime offense, the arrest rate for burglary was 98.1; larceny-theft, 442.3; and motor vehicle theft, 26.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. The arrest rate for arson was 4.0 per 100,000 inhabitants.
- In 2009, there were 14,614 law enforcement agencies that reported their staffing levels to the FBI. These agencies reported that, as of October 31, 2009, they collectively employed 706,886 sworn officers and 314,570 civilians, a rate of 3.5 employees for each 1,000 inhabitants.