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FBI's yearly Crime in the Nation Report is out: How does Arizona compare?

Homicide rates spiked across the nation during the pandemic. But the FBI’s latest Crime in the Nation report indicates that overall, both violent and property crimes are on the decline.

Professor Brooks Louton teaches crime analysis at Arizona State University.

“There are several theories of crime that suggest that when you put a lot of stress on people, when you change their routine activities, that that kind of strain is likely to increase violence,” said Louton, “and we saw that in this pandemic.”

Louton said while it’s difficult to compare local crime rates, we can’t discount the pandemic’s lingering effects on crime going forward.

When looking at the differences between rates nationally and in Arizona, Louton said not much has changed since 2012.

Upswing in vehicle thefts

“In terms of violent crime, Arizona’s trend compared to the national is actually not that different than what it’s been for the past more than 10 years,” she said. “We tend to run a little bit higher.”

For example, differences in state law can contribute to that gap.

“Things like the looser gun laws in Arizona,” Louton noted. “Gun laws have been shown repeatedly to affect levels of gun violence.”

Louton also added that southern border states have different challenges with crime control.

But when you break it down: “Homicide tends to fluctuate up and down but really the big driver there is aggravated assault, both in terms of volume of crimes and in terms of differences.”

She also noted that firearms were used in less than half the reported aggravated assaults.

Louton says the pandemic’s effect can also be seen in a temporary decrease of crimes like shoplifting by keeping people home. In recent years, she says one notable change in Arizona has been a spike in motor vehicle thefts.

“But we didn't see comparable upswings in other categories,” Louton said of the 2022 data.

'Taking steps to reduce crime'

Overall, Louton said the focus should be on understanding what contributes to crime.

“Where we really are going to drive long term change is through taking steps to reduce crime,” said Louton. “This includes things that are as simple as parenting classes and things that are as complicated as drug sale laws – and a host of other things that we could be doing, but that it’s difficult to talk about and can be difficult to decide to spend our money to advocate for.”

When it comes to looking at and understanding the data in the FBI’s yearly report, Louton said looking at the fine print can be crucial.

“For Arizona when we’re talking about violent crime, we had 89 agencies reporting and that covered 62% of that total population,” she said.

Certain crimes are chronically underreported, Louton said, “but that doesn’t make our data meaningless.”

“There’s some crimes that are chronically underreported either because they're very minor and people don't feel like it’s worth calling the police,” said Louton, “or because they’re very serious but they’re very scary and people don’t feel comfortable talking to anybody about it, much less going to law enforcement about it. So, the better relationships we have between law enforcement and our communities, the more we can close that gap.”

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Kirsten Dorman is a field correspondent at KJZZ. Born and raised in New Jersey, Dorman fell in love with audio storytelling as a freshman at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2019.