Violent crime rose throughout Phoenix and the East Valley in 2016, mirroring a national trend, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.
Property crime also increased in Chandler, Tempe and Gilbert, but Mesa experienced a slight reduction. Nationally, property crime has dropped for 14 straight years.
But the mixed results, while heading in the wrong direction, were far less alarming in the East Valley than in Phoenix, which recorded 34 more murders in 2016, an increase from 112 to 146 slayings.
Sgt. Jon Howard, a Phoenix police spokesman, said 2016 was an especially rough year, with the Serial Street Shooter accused of being responsible for eight slayings alone. He said the Serial Street Shooter case and a couple others with multiple victims accounted for about 20 victims alone.
“It’s not surprising. The year prior, we had an exceptionally low number for a city our size,’’ he said. “Many of the homicides involved victims already involved in criminal activities.’’
Howard said homicides tend to be personal and result from specific circumstances, making it hard to identify patterns that would help police prevent them.
“Although there are many theories out there, I don’t know if anyone can specifically explain why we see cycles in our crime rates that are supported by factual analysis,’’ Howard said.
Phoenix recorded 1,439 more violent crimes than a year ago, with increases in violent crime and property crime alike.
Phoenix had 58,552 property crimes last year with nearly 38,000 classified as thefts not related to burglaries. Burglaries account for about 13,000 of all property crimes.
Total property crimes for last year were up by about 4,000 over 2015.
East Valley murder statistics dwarf the Phoenix numbers, with Mesa’s number of slayings increasing to 19 from 16, Chandler’s increasing to 4 from 1, Gilbert’s increasing to 3 from 2, and Tempe’s dropping from 7 to 4.
Together, these four East Valley cities recorded 30 murders in 2016 compared to 26 in 2015, a 15 percent increase. Phoenix’s jump in murders represents a 30 percent increase.
Nationally, the FBI reported an 8.6 percent increase in murders from 2015 to 2016, the second consecutive year that murders increased.
Mesa Police Chief Ramon Bautista said domestic violence is the primary culprit for Mesa’s rise in murders, with 10 out of 19 slayings domestic violence related.
Although domestic violence is a chronic problem that must be addressed repeatedly by law enforcement, Bautista is contemplating a new approach that would closely monitor domestic violence offenders.
He said the traditional approach is to convince victims to flee from abusive relationships and to take refuge in shelters and other safe havens. The monitoring of offenders would add another element to the prevention strategy.
“Domestic violence is one of those things on my to do list,’’ Bautista said. “The domestic violence homicides are the lion’s share of our homicides.’’
Bautista said other police departments are targeting domestic violence offenders, making them “persons of interest’’ who are monitored by police. Bautista said he is analyzing how such an approach could be emulated by Mesa.
“The city of Mesa has employed a crime mitigation strategy that is very solid,’’ he said, closely tracking crime trends and adopting tactics to fight specific problems.
“If they see a spike in gang activity or property crimes, they focus their efforts on the spot,’’ Bautista said.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, citing the FBI report, said Arizona’s violent crime rate increased 13 percent from 2015 to 2016, and is at its highest level since 2008. But it cautioned that violent crime is still 34 percent lower than its historical high in 1993.
Overall, Arizona’s property crime rate has declined for six years in a row and is at its lowest rate since 1961, the County Attorney’s Office said.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is expanding his use of the community prosecution model, where prosecutors are assigned to a geographic area to work closely with local police and the community to target crime.