Police car on the street at night

Property crimes and rapes decreased in the first 11 months of 2020 compared to last year but homicides – especially those involving domestic violence – soared, according to a report Phoenix Police provided City Council last week.

Stating the statistics show “Phoenix experiencing a trend happening across the country,” the report says that while homicides increased, “Phoenix is performing better than the national average when it comes to solving homicides.”

The 52 percent increase in murders – fueled by a 175 percent increase in domestic violence homicides – also mirrors a national trend, according to the report, which noted murders are up 20 percent this year over last.

Phoenix’s increase in homicides was higher than increases recorded in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles. Nearly three-quarters of all homicides in Phoenix involved a firearm, the report adds.

But the report also notes that Phoenix PD has a homicide clearance rate of 72 percent – 10 percent higher than the national average for solving murder cases.

“Along with combating domestic violence,” the report states, “the department’s Homicide Unit put a hyper focus on intelligence-driven information, yielding positive results in closing homicide investigations.”

It attributes the high clearance rate in homicides to “focusing resources not on flooding a high-crime area with officers but instead using critical pieces of evidence to pinpoint specific suspects.”

A key role in that approach is played by detectives working with the city crime lab as part of the Crime Gun Liaison Program, which includes a database of firearms used in crimes across the country.

The huge increase in domestic violence – representing 44 of 187 killings so far this year – has triggered multiple responses from city agencies that began shortly after the onset of the pandemic.

Phoenix City Council used some of its federal pandemic-relief funds to set up computers at various locations throughout the city so victims could file for protective orders from abusive mates without their knowledge.

The Phoenix Family Advocacy Center also has remained open, “providing comprehensive victim advocacy services to domestic violence victims,” the report states.

The report also notes that despite the homicide increase, “Phoenix is not experiencing the type of record-breaking homicide cases our community saw in mid-2000.

“The peak hit in 2003 when our community lost a record 247 lives at the hands of another person,” the report notes. “Our city population has grown more than 20 percent since that time.”

The report said that from the first 11 months of 2019 to January-November 2020, burglaries plummeted 23 percent, rapes dipped 5 percent and thefts plunged 11 percent 

“Burglaries being down is no surprise at all,” said Councilman Sal DiCiccio. “Most people are home now and quite a few people have armed themselves as well. A burglar would be a real fool if they broke into a home given the circumstances today.”

The Phoenix report comes on the heels of a survey of 182 cities that found Phoenix as the 104th safest city in the nation. 

WalletHub, a personal finance website that frequently ranks cities for various quality-of-life factors, rated Gilbert as the safest in Arizona and the 10th safest in the nation.

For other area cities, the rankings are Chandler, 17; Scottsdale, 20; Mesa, 31 and Tempe, 40.

For Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix, those rankings actually represent improvement from a year ago, when WalletHub pegged them at 34, 45 and 118, respectively.

But the highest-scoring cities from a year ago all slipped in the rankings. Gilbert was ranked No. 4 nationally for safety in 2019, Chandler had been No. 9, and Scottsdale No. 12.

It appears the COVID-19 pandemic is a big reason for the slippage in a year when, frankly, everyone is less safe than when 2019 came to a close.

COVID-19 has affected mortality to such an extent that WalletHub factored it into this year’s safety rankings.

“The methodology has been updated this year to include the number of COVID-19 cases,” Jill Gonzalez, a WalletHub statistical analyst who worked on the survey, told AFN. “This is an area where Arizona cities don’t rank very well.”

“Other factors where Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Tempe rank low include the number of active firefighters, EMTs and paramedics per capita, the low share of sheltered homeless, and the high number of drug poisoning deaths and traffic fatalities per capita,” Gonzalez said.

WalletHub’s safety rankings go beyond the obvious life-and-death issues such as crime and our driving habits. 

Our bank accounts also come into play in WalletHub’s analysis.

“In terms of financial safety,” Gonzalez said, “these Arizona cities registered a large number of fraud complaints and personal bankruptcy filings per capita, and a low rate of access to and participation in retirement plans.

“However,” she said, “even considering all these factors, the cities still rank in the top 25 percent safest in the country.”

The WalletHub survey ranked communities in three broad categories – “home and community,” natural disasters and financial safety. 

In general, it is the region’s rankings for natural disasters and financial safety that account for its overall high ratings nationally. 

In the “home and security” category, which includes crime and traffic safety, the region did not score as well – Tempe, for example, coming in at No. 78 and Phoenix at No. 139 nationally.

Chandler, with its booming high-tech industry, led the region in financial safety, ranking No. 10 nationally in that category. 

Fast-growing Gilbert outscored wealthy Scottsdale, ranking No. 16 as opposed to Scottsdale at No. 18. The rankings for Tempe, Mesa and Phoenix in that area were 39, 40 and 65, respectively.

Even Tucson, listed at No. 146 nationally for safety overall, scored in the top third of cities economically, at No. 54.

Predictably, the region was seen as among the safest in the country from natural disasters. 

Historically the biggest natural threat here has been extreme heat, which has steadily become more deadly in recent years.

According to the Maricopa County Public Health Department, 197 heat-related deaths were reported in 2019, compared with 21 in 2001. 

Many of those deaths were attributed at least in part to non-functioning air-conditioners and to substance abuse. Homelessness also was a major factor.

The county did not provide a city-by-city breakdown of heat-related deaths.

Despite a high number of homeless people in Phoenix, the city ranked 25 for natural disasters.

The other natural disasters that frequently affect Arizona – wildfires and flooding – can touch the East Valley

to some extent, but fatal incidents in recent years have most often occurred in rural areas.

If the East Valley isn’t safe enough for you, Columbia, Maryland, has led the list for several years as the nation’s safest city. And of the 182 places surveyed, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, came in dead last.

The full WalletHub survey is available at: wallethub.com/edu/safest-cities-in-america/41926.

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