Arizona crime rates remain highest in the nation. Guess why?

Phoenix, Ariz. (July 22, 2005) - A new report from the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission (ACJC) indicates that Arizona’s crime rates continue to be the highest in the nation, a trend that began in 2000. According to an updated report by ACJC, Arizona Crime Trends: A System Review, the state ranks number one in Crime Index, property crime and motor vehicle theft. Further, Arizona ranks in the top 10 nationally for murder, burglary and larceny-theft. Specifically, Arizona is ranked fifth in the nation for murder, fourth for burglary, and second in larceny-theft. In addition, Arizona was ranked 13th in violent crimes in overall Crime Index. The Crime Index is a national model used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to capture state-by-state reported data on violent crime and property crime.

One of the major challenges confronting Arizona is the state’s dramatic population increase since 1993. Arizona’s population grew more than three times faster the national average between 1993 and 2003. “Since 1993, the population in Arizona has nearly doubled, increasing 41.8 percent in contrast to a 12.8 percent national average,” explained Steve Ballance, director of ACJC’s Statistical Analysis Center (SAC).

Criminal justice agencies in Arizona have seen an increase in workloads tied to the 41.8 percent increase in population over the last decade. However, there has not been a corresponding increase in funding or positions. The number of felony cases filed has increased by more than 27,000 over the last 10 years with 28,522 in FY1994 compared to 54,420 in FY2004, a 35.4 percent increase. When all criminal case filings are considered, there was a statewide increase of 81.8 percent during this time period.

The prison population increased 74 percent between 1993 and 2003. Changes in sentencing structure, as well as an increase in the population in Arizona, have contributed to this increase. The 2004 prison population was approximately 2,000 inmates more than the prisons are rated to hold. Factors believed to contribute to this growth include state general population growth, mandatory sentencing, an increased level of methamphetamine drug use, increased drug enforcement activity (the drug war), increased street gang activity in the state, a stiffening of penalties for driving under the influence, and harsher penalties for dangerous and repetitive offenders under Truth in Sentencing. Also, the total probation population increased 20.2 percent in the past five years.

The only area in the criminal justice system that has not seen a significant increase in actual numbers is the juvenile justice system. Between FY1996 and FY2004, referrals into the juvenile justice system decreased 1.9 percent.

The following information demonstrates the number of reported crimes in Arizona based on per 100,000 inhabitants because it better reflects the volume and type of crime occurring among populations.

See table

In explanation, the Crime Index is based on the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data reported to the FBI by law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and is composed of selected offenses to gauge fluctuations in the volume and rate of crime reported to those agencies. The overall Crime Index is further broken down into two categories: 1) Violent crime covers murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery; while 2) property crime is defined as burglary, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft. Arizona ranks number one in property crime and motor vehicle theft, which is the reason why the state is also number one in overall Crime Index rates as there are higher incidences of these crimes overall.

The total Crime Index rate in Arizona fell 17.3 percent between 1993 and 2003. While this represented a large drop in crime, the national Crime Index rate decreased by 24.9 percent. Also important to note is that while most Arizona crime rates decreased, two Crime Index areas saw substantial increases: murder increased by 11.3 percent and rape increased by 12.9 percent. In 1993, Arizona ranked 19th for murder; in 2003, the state ranked fifth. In spite of the increase in incidences of rape, Arizona ranked 24th in 1993 and in 2003.

Given the complex nature of the problem, no one agency or researcher can pinpoint an exact cause for Arizona’s higher-than-national-average crime rates. [could it be because of illegal immigration?] The ACJC Crime Report demonstrates correlations between the increase in crime and associated workloads and the increase in population, while noting that there has not been a proportionate increase in funding for criminal justice agencies. These agencies have seen a drastic reduction in federal funding for local law enforcement and prosecution programs such as the Byrne/Justice Assistance Grants program, which provides funding to local law enforcement to combat drug and gang-related crimes, and Project Safe Neighborhoods, an initiative to allow law enforcement and prosecution to better target firearm violence. The future of both of these federally funded programs is in question.

“The increase in crime and the workload placed on Arizona’s criminal justice system, coupled with the loss in funding, is a serious public safety concern,” said John A. Blackburn Jr., ACJC’s executive director. “Policy makers must take a hard look at where funding would be best directed, and the criminal justice community must provide these policy makers with the data that indicates where the funding will have the greatest impact.”

SAC director Steve Ballance concurs. “We need data-driven policy, and we need to measure the outcomes and results. Without it, we cannot formulate an aggressive strategy to affect these crime rates.”

This third edition of the Crime Trends report, compiled and analyzed by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission’s SAC unit, was the result of the collaborative efforts of researchers from several agencies within the criminal justice system in Arizona. They include the Arizona Administrative Office of the Courts, Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, Arizona Department of Corrections, and Arizona Department of Public Safety.

For more information about this report and its findings, please contact ACJC Public Information Officer Mary Marshall at 602-364-1156.

Leave a Reply