February 26, 2005
They are the same numbers. One Gilbert mayoral candidate says they show a massive public safety problem. The other says they show crime in Gilbert is declining.
As with most questions on town politics, the answer isn’t simple. Especially in a town that has grown 323 percent in 12 years.
In saying that crime is decreasing, Mayor Steve Berman uses Gilbert police statistics that show that Part 1 crimes, the most serious, per 1,000 people were at 33 in 2004, down from 35.5 in 2003. Those levels were at 38.4 in 2002 and 36.7 in 2001.
Part 1 crimes include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
Berman’s opponent, former Mayor Cynthia Dunham, argues that Part 1 crimes have increased 44 percent from when she left office in 2001. A flier she mailed out earlier this month compares totals from 12-month periods from May 2000 to May 2001 and October 2003 to October 2004.
Dunham said she doesn’t compare calendar years because she wanted to choose periods closest to when she was last in office and to the end of Berman’s term.
So is per capita crime, the statistics Berman cites, a good measure of a community’s safety? Or is the percentage of change in crimes a better tool, as Dunham asserts?
Michael Coyle, an instructor at Arizona State University’s School of Justice and Social Inquiry, says the numbers are more indicative of politics than anything else.
"Everyone has got different interpretations of what’s going on," he said.
Dunham’s flier also presents data showing that these most serious crimes have outpaced arrests by almost 40 percent during the same periods. The flier relies on the numbers that show crimes increasing 44 percent, while arrests increased about 7 percent.
Coyle said that doesn’t necessarily mean Gilbert is less safe than it was four years ago.
"What’s being argued here is that there is a direct relationship between arrest rates and crime rates. This is saying that the more people you arrest, the safer your community is," he said. "It’s very difficult to prove that."
Some in Gilbert also took issue with the front of Dunham’s campaign crime flier, which shows a blurred photo of a light-skinned young man with a goatee wearing a bandanna. He’s aiming a gun at you when you look at the flier. Some see the man as Hispanic, others say he’s white.
A resident complained to Human Relations Commission chairwoman Tami Smull about the leaflet.
"I got a complaint that there was a flier with a certain race individual depicted in a negative light," Smull said.
Dunham said her consultant designed the flier and she thought the male shown was white.
"There was no intention to offend anyone, only to raise awareness that we have some serious public safety concerns in this community," she said. "It’s a stock photo. I don’t know who the model is."
Smull said the town commission wouldn’t discuss the complaint at its meeting next week because of the timing of the upcoming election — the primary is March 8. The issue likely will be brought up at the commission’s April meeting.
Coyle, who teaches topics such as race, ethnicity and crime, said it’s impossible to discern the man’s race from the photo on the flier.
"Is it likely that people on their own will make the connection that this could be a minority?" he said. "Yes, very likely. Because media consistently portray the minorities in this country with stereotypes."
Berman said he is sending out leaflets refuting Dunham’s statements on crime.
And Dunham’s latest flier, sent this week, has a blurb at the bottom with a small picture of the flier that generated the complaint to the Human Relations Commission.
"Miss our last mail piece?" it reads. "It caused quite a stir!"