Arizona is No. 1, but only the criminals are celebrating.
The state’s crime rate leads the nation, according to a recent report issued by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.
"And, really, we’ve been No. 1 for some time, since 2000," said Steve Ballance, director of the commission’s Statistical Analysis Center.
The costs reach into the billions. Higher insurance premiums, a greater demand for law enforcement, replacing stolen goods — not to mention the human suffering caused by crime.
"It’s clearly a sobering report, and a wake-up call," Attorney General Terry Goddard said. "As if we needed one."
"Arizona Crime Trends: A System Review" was compiled through the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report and National Crime Victimization Survey. The statistics are from 2003, which are the latest released by the FBI.
Arizona had 6,145.6 reported crimes per 100,000 people — the accepted unit of measurement for comparison among states with differing populations.
While the overall crime rate has decreased in Arizona from 1993 to 2003, the state was 51 percent above the national average, and almost 12 percent above runner-up Hawaii, the report shows.
Although this isn’t an outrageously dangerous place — 13th in violent crimes, 8 percent above the national average — property crimes push Arizona to its unenviable ranking. The state is by far the tops in America for motor vehicle theft, while placing second in larceny-theft and fourth in burglaries.
"When you’re high in property crime, that’s going to drive your overall crime rate," Ballance said.
Experts said there are many explanations for Arizona’s crime status: The state’s phenomenal rate of growth and its proximity to Mexico are two.
Goddard blames methamphetamine. Addicts, needing money to buy the drug, are responsible for many of the smaller thefts and burglaries.
"Every meth lab is a minicrime wave," Goddard said.
The Arizona Insurance Information Association agrees with Goddard. In 2003, almost 27 percent of homeowners insurance claims were for theft and burglary, the association said, and those claims were settled for nearly $150 million.
From 1993 to 2003, Arizona’s population grew at a rate more than three times faster than the national average —41.8 percent, compared with 12.8 percent, the report shows.
"It’s almost like a business growing too fast," Ballance said. "It can give great service at a certain level, but beyond that. . ."
Goddard noted funding for law enforcement hasn’t kept pace with growth. Instead, it plateaued seven to 10 years ago.
As for the state’s high rate of motor vehicle thefts — 136 percent above the national average — experts suggested looking south. Once a car crosses the Mexican border it is either driven in that country, or is used for smuggling drugs or illegal immigrants.
"The border’s been killing us," said Ann Armstrong, spokeswoman for the Arizona Auto Theft Authority. "California, Texas, they’ve really done a better job."
Other destinations for stolen vehicles include "chop shops" and California, where shipment overseas awaits.
So, what’s to be done about stemming crime in Arizona? Ask a handful of experts, and receive a handful of opinions.
"Maybe we ought to keep criminals in jail longer, and we won’t have any crime," Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said.
Gregory Parzych, past president of Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, said more needs to be done about providing rehabilitation and education for prisoners.
Gov. Janet Napolitano believes preventive measures can be applied earlier.
"We do know a lack of education is directly tied to the crime rate," said Pati Urias, a spokeswoman for the governor.