As crime rates have dropped significantly around the country over the last decade, Mesa has not only kept up the pace but has become one of the nation’s safest big cities.
Preliminary data shows the trend continued in 2020, when violent and property crimes fell by another 2 percent here. Official reports on 2020 crime in Mesa and other cities will not be released by the FBI for months.
In 2020, the number of crimes per 1,000 residents was 22.7.
“Our lowest since statistics have been maintained,” Mesa Police Assistant Chief Ed Wessing said.
Wessing’s figures are based on a conservative population estimate of 504,410. Other estimates for Mesa’s population range from 518,012 (U.S. Census) to 552,000 (Maricopa Association of Governments).
If the population is higher, the 11,440 crimes against people or properties rate per 1,000 could be even lower.
“I think we’re in the top three in the nation for cities our size. We’re proud of that,” Mayor John Giles said.
He acknowledged a national downward trend in crime, but said that isn’t the whole story.
“I also think part of the explanation is we’ve really prioritized public safety in our city,” Giles said.
“Most cities of our size don’t have their own crime labs. We went to voters a year ago and asked for an increase in sales tax dedicated to public safety for more police officers.
“Having a well-funded, well-trained and well-equipped public safety department – that’s a priority in Mesa,” Giles said.
He said Mesa’s reputation is helping fuel its population growth: “The reason people (move) here is it’s a safe, desirable community.”
The mayor’s thoughts were echoed by a leader in the business community.
“I’m proud to live and work in a city where our crime rate continues to decrease while other cities rise. I love how our officers are involved in the community and get to know residents and businesses to better serve the people of Mesa,” said Sally Harrison, president and CEO of the Mesa Chamber of Commerce.
This is hardly to say Mesa is crime-free. Indeed, several shocking acts of criminal violence took place just this month.
On March 5, a wild shootout at an apartment near Rio Salado Parkway and North Country Club Drive left one dead and two injured.
After he was released from the hospital, Aaron Wright was arrested and charged with killing Deandre Brewer, who before succumbing fired back at Wright. Police found 26 shell casings were found inside the apartment.
On March 8, Ruben Sanchez shot his wife and their two daughters (one was killed) before turning the gun on himself, leaving three dead in a home near Eastmark.
The next day, police say a 14-year-old shot his two adult roommates, wounding both at a home near Stapley and University drives.
Another frightening crime took place March 5 near South Stapley Drive and East Broadway Road, when Rodrigo Garcia allegedly stole a parked BMW – with a sleeping 2-year-old in the back seat.
The car was found about an hour later, with the child unharmed. The mother told police she left her son in the car because he was sleeping and did not want to wake him up while she ran into a convenience store.
Despite that disturbing case, motor vehicle thefts have been reduced more than any other crime in Mesa.
In 1991, thieves swiped 2,605 vehicles in Mesa.
A decade later, the number of cars jacked here nearly doubled to 5,088.
But since 2010, motor vehicle thefts fell steadily, bottoming out at 838 in 2019 before rising to 1,074 last year – a 28 percent spike over the previous year, but still one-fifth of the number of cars and trucks ripped off 20 years ago.
In 1963, when Mesa first started tracking crimes vs. population, 1,617 crimes were committed. With a population of 40,329, that came to 40.1 crimes per 1,000 people – so the city is now twice as safe, per capita.
In 1978, the crimes per 1,000 here hit a high of 100.3. The crimes per 1,000 topped 85 only one other time, in 1994.
Since then, the rate per 1,000 fell steadily, to 63.7 in 2000, 60.3 in 2005, 37.9 in 2010 and 30.1 in 2015. Over the last five years, the crime rate per 1,000 trickled down every year, to 28.4 in 2016, 26.5 in 2017 24.3 in 2018 and 23.4 last year.
Jon Gould, director of Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said the reasons that crime rates have fallen here and around the country are definitely – unknown.
“For the last decade, crime in all categories is down. You would believe we would know why that is. But I was at a conference with a panel of experts from the National Academy of Sciences. They could not come up with a single answer,” Gould said. “It may have been a variety of things: improving economy, hotspots policing, demographics ... It may be over incarceration trends. There were four or five different hypotheses.”
He said “hotspots policing,” a growing trend with police departments, often uses mapping and statistical crunching to analyze places and times where crimes are most likely to occur, then providing extra police presence to those locations.
“You know the places where to concentrate police, which is likely to dissuade people from committing crimes,” Gould said.
“You’re able to reduce crime in those areas.”
With preliminary data trickling in from various cities, “What we’re seeing nationally in 2020 was certain crimes seem to be up and a variety of crimes seem to be down,” Gould said.
While homicides and aggravated assault rates seemed to be on the rise in the pandemic-dominated year, “Burglary, theft, rape, robbery seem to be down,” he said.
“We do not yet know why these numbers look the way they do. Some of the theories being proposed have to do with the pandemic.”
In Mesa, as previously reported by the Tribune, murders spiked in 2020, rising from 11 in 2019 to 20. That was still well below the 30 Mesa murders in 2005.
The 30-year average number of homicides in Mesa is 18; the average number of murders per year over the last decade is also 18.
New data show the number of rapes fell significantly, from a 30-year high of 285 in 2019 to 184 last year.
The number of sexual assaults last year was the lowest since 172 were reported in 2012; in the seven years since then, the average was around 250 sexual assaults per year, with the 311 last year a 30-year high.
The number or rapes/sexual assaults reported in 2020 was 70 percent lower than the 2019 total and 24 percent lower than the seven-year average.
Nationally, while domestic violence crimes increased in 2020, “Some of the crimes that seem to be down are ‘stranger crimes.’ People are not out as much, as a result we’re not seeing as many thefts or robberies,” Gould said.
He added there is a simple reason that home burglaries trended down last year: “Criminals aren’t going to go into homes where they think people will be at home.”