Salt Lake City police regularly share crime data online. But it can be hard to know what you’re looking at.
That’s why The Salt Lake Tribune analyzed it, to make it easier to understand where most crimes tend to occur, and which offenses tend to happen more often.
We looked at nearly five years of data, because that’s what was readily available on the Salt Lake City Police Department’s open-data portal, which features an interactive graph of crime statistics.
Those crimes, though, are only logged by the “primary” offense for each police call. For instance, if someone was threatened at gunpoint, but also robbed, only the aggravated assault would be logged. The data also doesn’t account for follow-up investigations that can change crime classifications.
Still, “primary” offenses tend to be serious crimes, which are defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as criminal homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft and arson. Similar to The Tribune’s analysis, the FBI uses these crimes to determine the general level of crime in a specific area, since they are most likely to be reported to police.
Salt Lake City police do have more comprehensive data. It’s called CompStat — short for “computer statistics” or “comparative statistics.” They use it to analyze all crimes, not just serious offenses. But to outsiders, it’s not as easily interpreted. That’s because those reports are generated weekly, and often overlap when years start and end, muddying the delineation.
That’s why The Tribune’s analysis focused on primary offenses. It doesn’t offer a complete picture, but SLCPD spokesperson Brent Weisberg acknowledged that the impact on findings is “likely low” for serious crimes. Still, he noted it would explain slight differences in statistics provided by the department.
What The Tribune found
The Tribune specifically looked at Salt Lake City primary offense data from 2019-2023, comparing crime counts from January to September of each year.
The news organization determined that this annual period offers a fairer analysis between years, because it largely leaves out seasonal trends — like how package theft can spike during the holidays. The Tribune also looked at overall numbers and monthly averages across the entire time period.
Salt Lake City police disputed this method. Weisberg also questioned why The Tribune would include a “sliver of data from four years ago” in its analysis, referring to the news organization including 2019 data, instead of only comparing more recent data — though the dated data was pulled directly from the Police Department’s website.
Weisberg called it a “disservice to the women and men of the Salt Lake City Police Department who have worked hard and continue to work hard to keep our community safe.” He also pointed to other factors that may skew results, including population growth, police staffing and policing strategies.
The Tribune’s analysis looked at citywide trends but also focused on Salt Lake City’s District 4, which encapsulates most of downtown. It spans from Interstate 15 east to University Street and from 900 South up to South Temple, according to the City Council website.
That area has accounted for about 27% of the city’s violent crime, including aggravated assault, homicide, rape and robbery, based on data going back to 2019.
Citywide, violent crimes spiked and have decreased, but are still up compared to 2019 — going from an average of 113 violent crimes per month in 2019 to a peak average of about 145 violent crimes per month in 2021.
This year, there was an average of about 130 violent crimes per month between January and September.
The data The Tribune analyzed also included arson, burglary, larceny/theft, and motor vehicle theft as nonviolent “primary” offenses.
As a whole, the crimes The Tribune included in its analysis collectively increased citywide during the coronavirus pandemic and have mostly decreased since — hitting a peak of 1,753 in October 2020 and falling to an average of 1,082 per month between January and September 2023. But those counts are still higher than 2019.
This year’s biggest crime increase compared to before the pandemic was arson. Reports of arson as a “primary” offense nearly doubled through September compared to the same period in 2019.
The downtown area reported 51 of the city’s 235 total “primary” arson offenses from January 2019 to September 2023, with spring 2021 marking the biggest spike, when the district logged five reports in April.
Citywide, the highest spike in arson happened in April 2021 with 10 reports, followed by nine reports in May 2020, October 2020, June 2021, June 2022 and July 2023.
The most common crime citywide is larceny/theft, accounting for more than 47,000 “primary” offenses from January 2019 to September 2023.
About 23% of these larceny/theft reports occurred in District 4 on average each month, amounting to nearly 11,000 of the city’s reports from January 2019 to September 2023.
Car prowls — like stealing a catalytic converter, or something from inside a car — and shoplifting make up 64% of the city’s larceny/theft cases, Weisberg said in an email.
In District 4, larceny/theft was up about 11% from January-September 2023 compared to the same period in 2019. And it was up from every year since (during that same nine-month period), save for 2021.
An average of about 190 reports of larceny/theft occurred in the downtown Salt Lake City area each month from January 2019 to September 2023, but reports spiked to about 223 and 234 in July and August of this year.
Weisberg said the increase in District 4 appeared to be connected to “car prowls, bike theft, and yard thefts.”
“As part of the Salt Lake City Police Department’s Violent Crime Reduction Plan, the department has documented more than 120 hours of proactive patrol in parts of District 4 specifically related to car prowls in July and August 2023,” he said.
Aggravated assault is the most common violent crime in Salt Lake City, with police reporting 4,317 aggravated assaults as “primary” offenses from January 2019 through September 2023.
About 26% of those assaults were reported in District 4. An aggravated assault does not require a physical injury, according to police, since a perpetrator can commit an aggravated assault if they also attempt or threaten to injure someone.
From January-September this year, 682 aggravated assaults were reported, including 193 in District 4 alone — up 36% compared to District 4′s aggravated assaults from January to September 2019.
Aggravated assaults in District 4 are also up about 4% compared to last year’s numbers through September.
Through September of this year, Salt Lake City police reported 13 homicides citywide. Four occurred in District 4.
Weisberg later clarified in an email that this year’s count may be inaccurate. He cited a July case that was logged as a homicide but instead considered an attempted homicide as of October, inflating the homicide count on SLCPD’s website as of Nov. 16 by one. It’s unclear if the shooting occurred in District 4
Last year, 14 homicides were reported through September, and three occurred in District 4.
Motor vehicle theft
Between January 2019 and September 2023, Salt Lake City police logged 8,073 “primary” reports of motor vehicle theft. District 4 accounted for about 17% of those offenses on average.
Compared to last year’s numbers through September, motor vehicle theft is down about 17% in District 4.
“The department has worked with the [Salt Lake County] district attorney’s office to ensure stronger cases for prosecution and the district attorney’s office has pushed for greater accountability for repeat offenders,” Weisberg said in an email.
“Additionally, the department continues to see success with the use of its license plate reader technology to identify occupied stolen vehicle[s] traveling through the city,” he added.
In 2019, District 4 saw 143 reports of motor vehicle theft through September — compared to 159 as of this September.
Citywide, motor vehicle theft was down about 31% between January and September this year when compared to reports from the same period in 2022. It’s also up by 20 offenses this year when compared to 2019 citywide numbers through September.
Citywide, “primary” drug offenses are up about 29% compared to January through September 2019, according to Salt Lake City police data The Tribune analyzed.
Through September of this year, there were 1,691 drug offenses reported — the most since 2019, when drug crimes as a “primary” offense totaled about 1,311 reports through September and 1,729 for the full year.
The police data readily available to the public only includes when a drug-related offense is the primary charge, which only accounts for about 42% of the city’s total drug offenses, Weisberg said in an email.
Drug offenses can include a “wide range” of criminal charges — such as possession of drug paraphernalia, manufacturing substances or distributing substances, according to police.
“There is also a relatively strong correlation between drug abuse offenses and jail booking arrests,” Weisberg wrote in an email, adding that SLCPD arrests are up 15% compared to January-September 2019 and up 17% compared to January-September 2022. “For District 4 specifically, jail booking arrests are up 20% compared to January-September of 2022.”
About 21% of this year’s “primary” drug offense reports came from District 4, and offenses are up about 52% citywide compared to numbers from January to September 2022.
Salt Lake City police reported 1,948 “primary” instances of vandalism citywide from January through September 2023, compared to 1,715 reported through September in 2019.
District 4 has accounted for about 27% of this year’s reports, with a total of 517 “primary” vandalism reports through September.
The crime is up about 14% citywide compared to 2019 numbers through September, but is down about 5% compared to 2022 numbers through September.
Through September of this year, 348 “primary” weapons offenses were reported in Salt Lake City, and about 19% — 67 crimes — were reported in District 4.
Citywide, 251 primary weapons offenses were reported through the same period in 2019, and 320 were reported through the same period in 2022.