ST. GEORGE – Earlier this month, Movoto, a real estate blog, released a list of “The 10 Most Dangerous Places in Utah.” Two cities in Southern Utah, Washington City and Cedar City, came in at Nos. 4 and 7 on the list, respectively.
“Usually when people think of Utah, murders, violence, and property crimes are not the first things that come to mind,” wrote Natalie Grigson, author of the blog post. “In fact, they’re probably pretty far down the list, considering all the great stuff this state has going on.”
According to another Movoto blog post, Utah ranks as the 15th safest state in the nation.
“Here at the Movoto Real Estate blog, though, we feel we’d be remiss if we didn’t give all the facts,” Grigson wrote. “Utah is one of the safer states in general, and yes it is almost unrealistically beautiful, but there are also some places within its borders that are downright dangerous.”
The methodology Movoto used in determining which cities in Utah were the most dangerous was by using using the U.S. Census and 2012 FBI Uniform Crime Report. Cities with 10,000 people or more were analyzed by murders, violent crimes, property crimes, and total crimes. A more detailed look at how Movoto broke down the analysis can be found on the blog post.
At the top of the list are South Salt Lake, Salt Lake City, and Ogden, followed by Washington City at No. 4.
“In 2012, Washington had the third most murders per capita in the state,” according to the blog post. “It also had the sixth highest number of property crimes per capita—most of which were thefts, followed by burglaries. This made for the sixth highest number of crimes per capita overall.”
Washington City did make local headlines for criminal incidents that year. In October 2012, a 76-year-old man killed his wife and is currently at the Utah State Hospital undergoing mental competency reviews. In another incident that unfolded in July 2012, police pursued and eventually took into custody a man who fled authorities and exchanged gunfire.
While other high-profile incidents have transpired since then, Washington City officials are not convinced their city ranks as the fourth most dangerous in the state.
“You can make anything say anything,” Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson said. “We heard another report that said Washington City was the second best place to live (in the state).”
Earlier this year, Movoto released a top-10 list of the best places to live in Utah. The list, also written by Natalie Grigson, placed Washington City second after Holiday as the best place to live in Utah.
Statistics and surveys can be pretty subjective to start with, Washington City Police Department spokesman Ed Kantor said. “There are so many variables and factors that go into them,” he said. “Anyone can look at those numbers.”
The FBI warns third parties about using data from its crime reports for rankings on its website, specifically:
Each year when Crime in the United States is published, many entities … use reported figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rankings, however, are merely a quick choice made by the data user; they provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state, region, or other jurisdiction. Consequently, these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents.
“It’s interesting that a real estate magazine, which focuses on selling new and used homes, would attempt to do a report like that, that could devalue the properties in those communities,” Neilson said. “It seems to defeat the purpose of their being a real estate magazine, just a little.”
“We’re biased,” Kantor said. “We think our city is safe.”
“In 2012, Cedar City had just the 14th highest number of property crimes in the state, which isn’t great, but it’s not bad as it is in many other places, but it’s not as bad as it is in many other places,” Movoto Real Estate’s blog post reported.
Cedar City has the fifth highest number of murders and more broadly, the sixth highest number of violent crimes per capita, the blog stated.
Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson said she believes Cedar City isn’t necessarily one of the most dangerous places to live.
“On that list, (Movoto) took very isolated statistics to do their survey,” Wilson said. “Cedar City has a lot more to offer than these factors mentioned.”
Wilson said the Cedar City Police Department encourages residents to be more careful and not keep valuables in cars and keep doors locked. She said if residents remember to do those simple things then they can help eliminate crimes that do result in Cedar City.
In order to be compared nationally, as well as in other communities, Cedar City Police Chief Bob Allinson said crime data is submitted to the Utah State Bureau of Criminal Identification under the guidelines of the Uniform Crime Reporting program, which is a national program that uses generic crime definitions to ensure crime data is comparable across political boundaries.
“BCI publishes their report, ‘Crime in Utah,’ and forwards the data collected from Utah law enforcement agencies to the FBI, who then combines it with data from other states to compile and publish an annual report called Crime in the United States,” Allinson wrote in a statistical report regarding Movoto’s blog. “There are limitations and variables that affect the collection of crime data and how it is reported. I think it’s important to help us keep in mind the variables that exist any time we are using statistical data to draw conclusions.”
The factors that Allinson said may influence the data include:
- There is police discretion in determining whether a crime has been committed
- Policy changes within the police department could affect the statistics
- Victims may refuse to cooperate with police or refuse to report crimes
- Administrative and bureaucratic changes within the police departments, such as a change in the size of the police force
- Changes in personnel may be influential
- The ways in which crimes are counted can also influence crime data. For example, if a subject breaks into a home, murders someone and assaults another, do all these crimes get reported or just the more serious crime of murder?
- Another factor is the method of categorizing an event. Thus, rape might be categorized either as a rape or as a lesser offense, such as assault, and that decision will influence the number of crimes in each of those categories
- Another limitation of the UCR is that it excludes many crimes, such as criminal mischief, domestic violence, and white-collar crimes (fraud) that may be frequent in occurrence, but that do not fall within any of the categories contained within the UCR. The UCR report is based on crimes that are reported in one of only 9 categories. They are: homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson
“Many entities, news media, tourism agencies, and other groups with an interest in crime in our nation use reported crime index figures to compile rankings of cities and counties,” he wrote. “These rankings, however, are merely a quick choice made by the data user; they provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state, or region.”
Crime can be misleading and it is the Police Department’s goal to present a true and accurate picture of the crime in Cedar City, Allinson said in his email.
“Data, however, must be analyzed over time and we continue to monitor this,” Allinson said. “The numbers represented in the statistical data do not reflect all the human suffering, quality of life issues, and tremendous economic loss that results from crime.”
In his experience, Allinson said, residents do not care about the raw data, but are more concerned with their perception of crime – whether they feel safe in their neighborhood, whether they can allow their children to play in the streets and walk home alone after dark. Perception of crime is important in determining how people react, he said.
“It is my opinion that Movoto Real Estate has presented a less than accurate picture based on how they interpreted the statistics,” Allinson said. “In 2012, Cedar City had one homicide case, sixteen rape cases, sixteen aggravated assaults and three robberies for a total of 36 ‘violent’ crimes against a population of 29,608 residents.”
Cedar City Police Department had 932 reported property crimes, which is everything from a burglary to a minor theft, such as a juvenile shoplifting a candy bar, he said.
Movoto Real Estate then used some formula, with its own predetermined weight value for their interpretation of the statistics to produce a headline of “These Are the 10 Most Dangerous Places in Utah,” and made a statement in that article about dangerous places, Allinson said.
“The 2012 Crime In Utah Report published by the Utah Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Identification has all of the statistical data in which Movoto Real Estate gained their information from,” he said. “If you look at the list of cities that Movoto Real Estate used in their study and compare them to the reported Part One violent and property crimes in the Crime in Utah Report, the list of top 10 cities differ.”
According to the statistics from the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Division of Criminal Identification, presented by Allinson, West Jordan would be No. 11 with a crime rate of 29.25 and Cedar City would rank No. 12 with a crime rate of 28.23.
Movoto Real Estate did not include all areas in their study such as West Valley and Murray as well as all of the areas such as Kearns, Magna and other locations in the Salt Lake Valley that are policed by the Unified Police Department of the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office, he said.
“To really skew the numbers, you could look at a city such as Park City with a population of 7,862 but they have a crime rate of 59.65, which would place them in third place if they were included in the study,” Allinson said.
The question to be asked, he said, is if residents and tourists of Park City feel like they are in a place that is downright dangerous. He is confident the answer would be no, Allinson said, and it would be irresponsible for an organization to make such a statement that could carry such negative ramifications on their image and the revenue from tourism they produce.
“Every police department desires to reduce crime and provide a safe community for their residents,” he said. “Our 10-year average for violent crime is 34 a year, and 829 per year for property crimes. Is that too many for our city in which we draw thousands of tourists and shoppers every year who also contribute to the crime statistics? I think that would be a fair question to ask our residents and visitors and see if they perceive they live in the seventh most dangerous city in Utah.”
Allinson expressed that it would also be fair to ask the other Movoto Real Estate top 10 cities before making the blanket statement that these 10 cities are downright dangerous.
St. George News Senior Reporter Mori Kessler contributed to this report.
- These Are The 10 Most Dangerous Places in Utah-Movoto
- FBI Crime Statistics
- Utah Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Identification
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