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Flagstaff Police Department

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Our Blog

An ongoing series of informational entries

Increase in Violent Crime

October 22, 2017

The Flagstaff Police Department is tracking a 23% increase in reported violent crimes over the last four months. These violent crimes represent a new trend in criminal activity in our community. Up until June of 2017 these crimes were reported at approximately the same rate as the previous year. Since June reporting has increased significantly. Typically, we see increases every summer that decrease in the fall. These crimes include Aggravated Assault, Sexual Assault and Robbery. It is our belief and hope that this information will be useful to our citizens as we all strive to protect our community against crime and the fear of crime through a partnership of shared responsibility and trust.

While we have noted an increase in these specific crimes this impact does not affect all members of Flagstaff equally. Specifically, subgroups in our population are impacted disproportionately to the general population. The primary subgroup that is impacted are homeless or semi-homeless individuals with substance abuse issues, often referred to as serial inebriates or public intoxicants. This group represents a small subset of the population but is involved in many of the violent crimes which occur in Flagstaff. This population has also been increasing in numbers for the past several years. A serial inebriate is defined as a subject who has ten or more police contacts during the calendar year for public intoxication. The crime number is calculated by adding up the number of times those same serial inebriates have been victimized or arrested within the year.

In 2015, we had 36 identified serial inebriates who were arrested or victimized for a total of 183 times. This number more than doubled for 2016. In 2016, the police department identified 63 individuals who met the definition of serial inebriate. These 63 individuals accounted for a serial inebriate related crime number of 464 (354 arrests and 110 victimizations). These 63 individuals only account for 0.08766% of Flagstaff’s total population but represent 5% of the arrests made in 2016. From looking at our current trends it appears 2017 will be another high year for serial inebriate related crime. This population is responsible for 33% of the total aggravated assaults, 34% of founded sexual assaults, and 58% of robberies that have occurred in Flagstaff between January and August of 2017.

When we look closer at aggravated assaults, we find there has been a total of 146 reports of aggravated assaults reported between January and October 15, 2017 in comparison to 124 for the same time frame back in 2016. This represents a 18% increase in reports of aggravated assault. Additionally, there have been 118 reports of aggravated assaults against Law Enforcement, Fire Department and Healthcare workers during this same time frame in 2017, as compared to 78 in 2016. This represents a 51% increase in aggravated assaults against this victim category. Particularly concerning is the category of aggravated assaults against healthcare workers which has increased 96% in comparison to the previous year. Again, the serial inebriate population is highly represented in these violent crimes committed in Flagstaff and excessive alcohol consumption is a contributing factor.

Another crime that we have seen increases in are robberies. Last year, at this time, we had 20 robberies reported year to date. There have been 45 robberies reported so far in 2017. Of the 45 robberies five (5) were committed against businesses and 40 were against persons. Drugs or alcohol were known to be involved in 68% of these crimes and public intoxicants were involved in 58% percent of them as suspects or victims.

When we speak of sexual assaults, the Flagstaff Police Department has realized a 47% increase in reported sexual assaults from 2016 to 2017 year to date. While this difference is only eight (8) reports, it is concerning and this represents eight (8) more traumatic experiences our citizens have endured in comparison to last year’s reported crimes. We have had 35 sexual assaults reported to the police so far in 2017, some have been unfounded and five (5) were late reports from incidents which had actually occurred in 2016. Alcohol and/or drugs were found to be involved in 69% of these incidents. Public intoxicants were known to be involved in 34% of these crimes either as suspects or victims. We have been working with our partners at Northern Arizona Care and Services after Assault (NACASA) and Victim Witness Services for Coconino County to increase outreach to the public.

The Flagstaff Police Department has also noted several violent incidents during the last three months that are believed to have a nexus to gang activity. This includes five (5) shootings and two (2) stabbings. While this only represents a few incidents, it is a significant increase in gang related activity in percentage points. State gang task force detectives are working closely with the Flagstaff Police Department on these investigations, and arrests have been made in four (4) of the seven (7) incidents.

The Flagstaff Police Department has struggled to maintain previous levels of “proactive policing” as all available officers are engaged with existing calls for service rather than performing as many proactive policing tactics. While there is no one cause for the reductions in proactive policing, the City of Flagstaff has seen an increase in calls for service and at the same time there has been a reduction in police officers. The reduction in officers is due to retirements, having officers on Military leave, officers getting out of the profession, leaving the community and vacancies which are taking longer to fill. The department has experienced a 30% to 40% vacancy rate for officers during the past year. Officers can retire and leave in two weeks however, it takes approximately one year to train a new officer. The department currently has 14 recruits in the academy or in field training. Increased calls for service and other demands have resulted due to increasing populations, businesses and housing units. We are also seeing some of our homeless populations staying longer as social service organizations provide year-round services for those in need. The populations that have increased at the highest rate in Flagstaff usually demand the most emergency services. There has been an influx of eighteen to twenty-two-year-old residents (students) and a noticeable increase in the homeless population. The department has re-aligned shifts to better cover calls for service, removed officers from specialty positions to meet minimum staffing levels on patrol squads, and has requested six (6) additional police officer positions using the COPS Grant. Approval of this grant is still pending.

In looking at specific neighborhoods, the Sunnyside neighborhood has seen 17% of the violent crime year to date. The violent crime rates in that neighborhood have decreased overall since we started tracking them, this year’s violent crime numbers are similar to what we witnessed in 2013 and 2014, but 3% higher than last year. The southside neighborhood has also seen a trending decrease in its proportion of violent crime from 11.8% in 2012 to just 6.5% of violent crime year to date in 2017.

The Flagstaff Police Department has a much higher clearance rate than the national average (2016) in both violent and property crimes. It is the position of the Flagstaff Police Department that police do make a difference and have an impact on both crime and fear of crime when adequately staffed to not only respond to calls for service but also engage in proactive policing efforts within the community. Community based policing has proven an effective policing strategy as officers work with their communities under the “broken windows theory” to prevent or reduce the impact of more heinous crimes such as those listed as violent crimes. This strategy does require additional police personnel as the number of individuals using the city increases. This has been demonstrated in empirical research and social experiments locally and in other communities.