Crime nationwide declined 2.5 percent last year, but the FBI reports an increase in violent crimes in towns with less than 10,000 residents.

According to preliminary data released by the FBI, cities with more than 1 million people saw murders fall 4.3 percent; cities with 500,000 to 1 million people saw murders fall nearly 8 percent.

In towns with fewer than 10,000 people, however, murders rose 5.5 percent, rape increased 1.4 percent, and robbery increased 3.9 percent.

The latest data show violent crime fell for a second straight year, after increases in 2006 and 2005. Those two years, the crime rate began to rise after historic lows that began during the Clinton administration and continued into President Bush's first years in the White House.

Nationwide, murder and manslaughter dropped 4.4 percent in 2008. Aggravated assault declined 3.2 percent, forcible rape decreased 2.2 percent, and robbery dropped 1.1 percent. The country also saw a huge drop in car thefts — more than 13 percent.

The western region of the country saw the biggest declines, with a 4.2 percent drop in property crime and a 3.4 percent drop in violent crime. The Northeast saw a slight increase in property crime, which rose 1.6 percent.