WASHINGTON: Violent crime in the United States increased in 2015, particularly in big cities, but remained far below peak levels of the 1990s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in an annual report released on Monday.

The report showed there were 1,197,704 homicides and other violent crimes last year, up from 1,153,022 in 2014. In 1996, violent crime reached an estimated 1,688,540, according to the FBI.

Coming on the day of the first presidential campaign debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the report could "be turned into political football," said Robert Smith, a research fellow at Harvard Law School, in a teleconference on Friday with other crime experts.

Trump last week praised aggressive policing tactics, including the "stop-and-frisk" approach.

Clinton has pushed for stricter gun control to help curb violence and has called for national guidelines on the use of force by police officers.

In 2015, there were an estimated 15,696 murders in the United States compared with an estimated 14,164 the prior year, according to the report. Still, while violent crime had dropped in 2014 and 2013, last year's rate was still lower than in 2012 and earlier years, the FBI found.

Preliminary 2015 figures released by the FBI in January had already pointed to increases in violent crime in US cities such as Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

FBI Director James Comey warned last year that violent crime in the United States might show a rise because increased scrutiny of policing tactics had created a "chill wind" that discouraged officers from using aggressive tactics.

The rise in crime has been concentrated in big cities' segregated and impoverished neighborhoods. Experts said crime there can best be fought through better community policing and alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent crime.

"We’re just beginning to see a shift in mentality in law enforcement from a warrior mentality ... to a guardian mentality," Carter Stewart, a former prosecutor for the Southern District of Ohio, said on the teleconference. "I don't want us as a country to go backwards."

In Chicago, 54 more people were murdered in 2015 than the year before, a 13 percent jump in the city's murder rate, according to an April study by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice.