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Utah data confirm dipping crime rate

Utah's law enforcement statistics confirm a relatively low violent crime rate, while property offenses occurring at locations across the state historically exceed the level recorded nationwide.

Nevertheless, the state's property offense and overall crime levels have decreased by nearly 30.6 percent after peaking in 1995.

Since 1960, the state's crime rate has generally followed the national trend, indicated a recent research study conducted by the Utah Foundation, an independent public policy organization.

But after 1994, the state witnessed an unusual increase in reported incidents while the nation experienced a significant decline in crime.

Utah's crime rate fell after 1997, but continued to exceed the national level until 2006.

In 2006, the state's crime rate dropped below the national level for the first time in more than a decade.

Nationally, the United States posted significant crime rate declines beginning in the 1990s, pointed out foundation researchers.

Several theories exist as to why the drop occurred, including law enforcement and prison population increases, coupled with a nationwide decrease in the number of males ages 15 to 25.

Data confirm that the 15- to 25-year-old male demographic group accounts for a major portion of total crimes, explained the independent research organization.

For example, males ages 15 to 24 comprised 8.9 percent of Utah's population in 2006, but committed 35 percent of the index crimes reported statewide.

On the positive side of the spectrum, Utah's crime rates dropped by 29.5 percent between 1997 and 2001.

During the four-year period, the per capita state and local government spending on law enforcement protection started to significantly increase, noted the foundation. Between 1996 and 1997, Utah's per capita expenditures increased from $131 versus $168 nationally to $148 compared with $178. As a result, the state's rank in per capita expenditures climbed from 32nd to 26th highest in the country. Between 1991 and 2005, Utah increased per capita expenditures by 61 percent compared to a nation's 35.2 percent.

Utah currently has the 27th highest index crime rate in the United States, according to the independent organization.

Index crimes are classified as violent or property offenses. Violent crimes include murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, aggravated assault and robbery. Property crimes include burglary, larceny or theft and motor vehicle theft.

Utah's index crime rate registers at 3,740 incidents per 100,000 people. The national index crime rate registers at 3,808.

Utah's violent crime rate registers at 224.4 at compared to the nation's 473.5 offenses per 100,000 people. Only South Dakota, New Hampshire, Vermont, North Dakota, and Maine have lower rates of violent crime. Of all the crimes committed in Utah in 2006, violent crimes accounted for 6 percent of the total, with property offenses accounting for the remaining 94 percent.

Utah's violent crime rate has consistently followed national trends. Violent crimes peaked statewide in 1997, then fell 32.8 percent in 2006. By comparison, the U.S. level decreased 22.5 percent.

Although Utah ranks 46th in the nation in violent crimes, the state recorded the 21st highest rape level in 2006 and reported a 40.7 rate in 2004.

The Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice indicates that improvements in reporting related incidents have played a major role in the state's rising forcible rape rates.

A second factor to consider involves the state's crime reporting guidelines, explained the Utah Foundation.

In the event more than one crime is committed in a single episode, the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification indicates that only the most serious offense is reported. For example, if a more serious violent offense like a homicide occurs in conjunction with a rape, only the murder would be reported.

The number of larceny-thefts committed in Utah accounts for the state's high property crime rate. Motor vehicle thefts are reported separately. Larceny-theft offenses accounted for nearly 70 percent of the crimes committed in Utah in 2006. Burglaries and motor-vehicle theft followed in second place, accounting for 15.4 percent and 8.7 percent respectively of the total number of crimes committed across the state.

From 1997-1999, Utah posted the highest larceny-theft rate in the country. The rate peaked in 1995, but fell 42.8 percent by 2006. Conversely, Utah's burglary and motor-vehicle theft rates registered less than the national average until the mid-1990s, when the gap began to close to almost disappear by 2006.

Crime prevention and law enforcement in Utah primarily falls on 125 municipal police departments and county sheriff offices in the state. In addition to local law enforcement agencies, the state operates three law enforcement agencies: the Utah Highway Patrol, parks-recreation and wildlife resources.

According to the most recent statistics available from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Utah reported 7,919 full-time employees in 134 state and local law enforcement agencies in 2004. The numbers represent an increase from the 6,346 full-time employees and 129 agencies reported in June 2000, concluded the Utah Foundation report.




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