To understand how badly we're doing the most basic work of journalism in covering the law enforcement beat, try sitting in a barbershop. When I was getting my last haircut, the noon news on the television"”positioned to be impossible to avoid watching"”began with a grisly murder. The well-educated man in the chair next to me started ranting about how crime is out of control.
But it isn't. I told Frank, a regular, that crime isn't running wild and chance of being burglarized today is less than one quarter what it was in 1980.
The shop turned so quiet you could have heard a hair fall to the floor had the scissors not stopped. The barbers and clients listened intently as I next told them about how the number of murders in America peaked back in the early 1990's at a bit south of 25,000 and fell to fewer than 16,000 in 2009. When we take population growth into account, this means your chance of being murdered has almost been cut in half.
Its almost impossible to convince folks that AZ is not in the middle of some sort of Road Warrior-style immigrant-led wave of violence. In fact, our crime levels in AZ have steadily dropped for over a decade, in part because illegal immigrants trying to hang on to a job are the last ones to try to stir up trouble with the law (charts here, with update here)
In Phoenix, police spokesman Trent Crump said, "Despite all the hype, in every single reportable crime category, we're significantly down." Mr. Crump said Phoenix's most recent data for 2010 indicated still lower crime. For the first quarter of 2010, violent crime was down 17% overall in the city, while homicides were down 38% and robberies 27%, compared with the same period in 2009.
Arizona's major cities all registered declines. A perceived rise in crime is one reason often cited by proponents of a new law intended to crack down on illegal immigration. The number of kidnappings reported in Phoenix, which hit 368 in 2008, was also down, though police officials didn't have exact figures. [see charts above, these are continuation of decade-long trends]
But over Thanksgiving my niece visited from the Boston area for a national field hockey tournament and her teachers and coaches had carefully counselled them that they were walking into a virtual anarchy, and kidnapping or murder would await any teen who wandered away from the group.