New report shows Utah violent crime is up from 2019 — but down from 5 years ago

The Utah Sheriff’s Association blamed a ‘radical agenda’ for the recent reported crime increase.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ogden Police Department crime scene investigators work the scene on Jackson Avenue on Thursday. An Ogden police officer died in a shooting after responding to a domestic violence call May 28, 2020 in the area of Jackson Avenue and Harrop Street shortly after noon. A suspect was killed and an officer with Adult Probation and Parole was injured at the scene.

More violent crimes were reported throughout much of Utah last year compared to 2019. But compared to five years ago, overall violent crime remains down, a new annual report shows.

The report, which the Utah Department of Public Safety released Wednesday, includes data from agencies in 26 of the state’s 29 counties, compiled by the Bureau of Criminal Identification.

According to the report, index crimes — used by the FBI to track the country’s crime trends, which include criminal homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, vehicle theft and arson — have generally increased by about 5.7% from 2019 in Utah. But compared with the 2016 annual report, overall reports of such crimes have decreased by 18.3% in the past five years.

Of those index crimes, individually, reports of homicide, rape and arson have increased over the last five years — by 44.16%, 3.02% and 10.11%, respectively. In total, there were 111 homicides in Utah in 2020, according to the report. In both 2019 and 2016, the state saw 77 reported homicides.

“When I heard that, I had concern,” former Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, who now works with the Center for Policing Equity, said about the homicide increase. “It’s a huge jump [statewide], but it really only represents — in our community — a very small fraction because the numbers are so small. It’s concerning, but not from the standpoint of ‘Oh, you got homicide numbers. What are we going to do? Let’s get more police officers.’”

“There’s no correlation between those,” he continued.

Property crimes down

Violent crimes overall — which are classified as murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — are up 1.04% from 2019. But compared with 2016, such crimes are down by about 6.43%.

Burglary decreased by 33.35% since 2016, with rates of robbery, larceny, vehicle theft and aggravated assault also down by 23.04%, 18.49%, 5.96% and 4.36%, respectively.

Utah’s overall rate of how many crimes occurred per 1,000 people in the state also decreased from 2016. Last year, that figure was calculated at 24.33 crimes per 1,000 people compared with 2016′s figure of 31.72. The figure slightly increased from 2019′s rate of 23.34.

The Utah Sheriffs’ Association said in a Tuesday statement that crime increases reported over the past year were emblematic of larger issues, including anti-law enforcement sentiment and “significant staffing shortages.”

“The George Soros catch and release, cashless bail, defund the police, radical agenda is good for criminals and a disaster for public safety,” Chad Jensen, Cache County Sheriff and President of the Utah Sheriffs’ Association, said in the statement. “Unfortunately, it has caught up with us. The result is a seemingly endless cycle of career criminals who believe there are few consequences for their actions. They will continue to offend, get released, and reoffend until we stop this nonsense.”

Burbank said officials commonly cite issues such as being “soft on crime” or a lack of support for police as a reason for crime increases.

“One of the things that we know — historically, right — when you look over the recent 50-year history, the crime rate goes up and down regardless of the state of policing and the actions of policing,” Burbank said.

He said factors like addiction and mental health issues can have much bigger impacts in driving community crime rates.

Domestic violence trends upward

The new annual report also shows rates of domestic violence were up by about 3.32% from 2019 and by about 0.93% from 2016, with 14,482 incidents reported across the state in 2020 as law enforcement and service providers saw an increase in domestic violence calls during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hate crimes also increased from 45 reported in 2019 to 46 reported in 2020, according to the report. In 2016, 57 hate crimes were reported.

Fifteen agencies across the state reported hate crimes in 2020, down from 17 agencies that reported hate crimes in 2019. Five years ago, 30 agencies across the state reported hate crimes.

In reviewing the report, Burbank cautioned against agencies using the findings as a panic alarm, noting that more attention should be paid to the context of reported crimes.

“In America, we’re supposed to calm things and make it better,” Burbank said of the role of policing. “Not make it worse by inciting fear.”