Hamilton had a 19-per-cent decrease in violent crime last year — the highest decrease in the country, police say.

A new Statistics Canada report shows that violent crime in Canada decreased by three per cent, and by five per cent in Ontario. But the Hamilton area saw the single greatest violent crime decrease in Canada, the Hamilton Police Service said in a media release Thursday.

The local census metropolitan area — which also includes Burlington and Grimsby — also saw a 14-per cent decrease in the severity of violent crimes.

"This 14-per cent decrease is the largest year-over-year decrease in the past 10 years of our city's history," police said in a statement.

The numbers represent a downward trend over the past five years. But efforts must continue, the release said.

"We must continue all efforts to encourage the reporting of crime, crime prevention strategies designed to protect women, children, seniors and vulnerable persons from harm," it said.

The Hamilton area saw a seven-per-cent decrease in crime overall, shows the 2012 Police Reported Crime Statistics annual report.

Crime in Canada is at its lowest level since 1972, the latest figures show. Police services across the country reported nearly two million incidents involving criminal activity in 2012, roughly 36,000 fewer than in the previous year.

Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4 was heartened by the decrease in Hamilton. But Merulla, a vocal critic of a police budget increase earlier this year, said this is evidence that police should hold the line on the budget.

"My position is let's maintain what we have. It's obviously working," he said. "I'm not sure why we would be throwing money at an issue where it's obviously not needed."

The initial version of the 2013 police budget asked for 20 new officers and one new civilian staff member, and would have meant a total budget of $143 million, up $7.1 million from the year before.

Coun. Jason Farr, who represents Ward 2 downtown, sees it as another element in a good era for Hamilton.

With increasing housing prices, assessment growth in the downtown core and more private investment, "this is just another good news Hamilton story," he said.

Farr says he does hear about less crime at neighbourhood association meetings in his ward.

"That said, it doesn't mean any of those issues have gone away," he said.

Spending on criminal justice is rising across the country, Statistics Canada figures show. In Canada, 2011-12 spending was $20.3 billion, roughly three-quarters of which was carried by provinces and municipalities.

Per capita spending on criminal justice — including federal and provincial jails, court costs and policing — climbed 23 per cent over the last decade, the parliamentary budget office reported in March.

The Conservative government has also introduced at least 30 bills designed to crack down on crime since Prime Minister Stephen Harper won power in 2006.

Toronto had the lowest rate among the country's census metropolitan areas for the sixth consecutive year. Quebec City had the second-lowest crime rate.

Kelowna, B.C., had the highest crime rate in 2012. Regina, Sask., came second.

Crime severity was up in 2012 in Windsor, Guelph, Brantford and St. Catharines-Niagara, as well as Gatineau, Que., and Moncton, N.B.

With files from The Canadian Press