A police union president is calling into question the validity of Mesa’s place on a recent magazine list honoring what are supposedly America’s safest cities to live in.
Ryan Russell, president of the Mesa Police Association, voiced concerns over the list — released last week by Forbes Magazine with the East Valley’s largest city coming in as the seventh-safest city in the United States — because it contains crime statistics that are nearly three years old and the ranking was based on limited areas, such as traffic fatality rates and violent crimes for cities with a population of more than 250,000.
Plano, Texas, a short drive north from Dallas, was ranked as the nation’s safest city to live in. The Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nev. was second and Honolulu third. The rankings were based on violent crime rates reported by the FBI’s uniform crime statistics and traffic fatality rates reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety administration.
Russell, who is a sergeant in Mesa’s gang unit and also has seen domestic violence incidents increase in the city and a steady flow of gang-related activity, told the Tribune that he was surprised Mesa made the list amid its budget cuts and personnel reductions through attrition in recent years. The Mesa Police Department peaked with 855 uniformed officers on the streets between 2005 to 2008, but now is below 770, according to Russell.
“We need to have Forbes Magazine come out here and ride with our gang unit,” Russell said. “The two areas that Forbes used to rank the cities are just a small piece of the pie. I can understand why they figure in traffic fatalities because that is a vital component to public safety. I think the ranking does speak volumes as to how hard our officers are working.”
By comparison, the gang unit in which Russell is a supervisor of, peaked at 22 detectives and 16 sergeants during 2008 and 2009, but now is at 16 detectives and three sergeants.
Incident response times also increased by 12 to 14 percent since 2009, translating from 3.75 minutes per call to 4.05 minutes today.
Based on crime statistics on cityrating.com, Mesa crime statistics reported an overall downward trend in crime based on data spanning 11 years with violent crime decreasing and property crime decreasing. Based on this trend, the crime rate in Mesa for 2011 is expected to be lower than in 2009.
The city’s violent crime rate for Mesa in 2009 was 1.08 percent lower than the national violent crime rate average, while the city property crime rate in Mesa was higher than the national property crime rate average by 13.08 percent.
In 2009 the city violent crime rate in Mesa was higher than the violent crime rate in Arizona by 4.04 percent and the city property crime rate in Mesa was lower than the property crime rate in Arizona by 3.47 percent, according to the statistics.
In 2009, there were 14 homicides, 123 rapes and 1,303 motor vehicle thefts and 611 robberies reported in Mesa. However, in 2011, all of those categories were projected to see increases by the end of the year.
The crimes projected to slightly drop during 2011 were burglaries, larceny and theft, property crime and arson.
Russell called the rankings an “anomoly.”
“Usually, during hard economic times, crimes goes up. We have seen some violent crimes go down, but others go up,” he said.
“The scope (Forbes) looked at is very small,” Russell added. “Forbes Magazine needs to expand its scope and run the whole gamut of crimes. The individual who has their home or car burglarized, those are the people who look at whether Mesa is the seventh-safest city.”
The safest cities ranking list was compiled by Beth Greenfield, a contributor to Forbes Magazine. Attempts to reach Greenfield for comment have been unsuccessful.
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