Crime

Crime rates fall dramatically over 10 years in Boise

Georgia residents Octavius J. Walker, 26, and Carolyn P. Griffith, 37, traveled to Boise last year to break into cars. They swiped wallets and purses and later cashed thousands of dollars worth of forged checks stolen from their victims. They were arrested, pleaded guilty and face sentencing this month.

Their spree accounted for several of the 701 burglaries reported to Boise police in 2014. Two burglaries a day were reported on average, a 44 percent drop from 3.6 in 2005. The total during that period dropped from 1,320 to 710, according to a Statesman analysis of Boise’s annual crime reports over the past 10 years.

“We’re seeing home burglaries and commercial burglaries fall,” police Chief Bill Bones said. “Those are definitely on a big downturn, much bigger than I would have expected.”

Over the past decade, just about every major crime category has experienced similar decreases. Two years ago, a national website, Business Insider, recognized Boise as the seventh-safest city in the United States, based upon an analysis of FBI crime statistics.

For the decade, forgery and counterfeiting were down 77 percent. Embezzlement was down 67 percent; vehicle thefts, 57 percent; vandalism, 42 percent; thefts, 35 percent; and aggravated assaults, 9 percent.

“Crime rates have trended down in large cities and midsize cities nationally,” said Bones, who became chief Jan. 30 after Mike Masterson retired. “However, we have trended down at a much steeper level.”

Nationally, crime fell 40 percent between 1994 and 2012, according to an analysis of FBI crime data by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Crime in Idaho dropped 46 percent, compared with 49 percent in neighboring Nevada, 45 percent in Oregon, 43 percent in Montana, 42 percent in Wyoming, 40 percent in Utah and 34 percent in Washington.

Violent crime across the nation has fallen by 51 percent since 1991, while property crime has gone down 43 percent.

Several factors have been responsible for lower crime rates, according to a study published in February by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

A police technique begun in New York City in 1994 in which departments use data to identify crime patterns and target resources for those problems has led to a reduction of 5 percent to 15 percent in cities, including Boise. Decreased alcohol consumption, rising consumer confidence and reductions in inflation that make stolen goods less attractive for resale also helped, the study said.

Marc Ruffinengo, a lecturer with the Department of Criminal Justice at Boise State University, says that many factors are typically responsible for decreases in crime.

“It’s really difficult, if not impossible, to attribute a drop to just one thing,” Ruffinengo said. There’s so many things that influence crime rates that it’s really difficult to pin one specific thing down.”

When the economy improves and more people are working, fewer turn to crime, Ruffinengo said. As people get older, they’re also less likely to commit crimes, he said.

Bones said the good news may soon end. He doesn’t expect the downward crime trend to continue. Crime rates fluctuate over time, he said.

“Most experts believe those are going to start ticking up now. They believe we have probably bottomed out, and you’re going to see the crime rates grow across the country,” Bones said. “What we want to have happen now, if they do start to increase nationally or locally, is to have smaller increases than those other places.”

BURGLARS SWITCH TO FRAUD

That category of crime in Boise is up 40 percent from 2005, when 815 cases were reported. Last year, fraud cases totaled 1,141.

Some criminals committing burglaries, including Walker and Griffith, have gone to jail or prison. Others, however, have turned to other crimes that don’t pose the risk of encountering an angry homeowner armed with a gun or setting off a silent alarm at a business. It’s easier to get stolen credit card numbers, emboss them onto blank cards and take them to stores to buy merchandise, gift cards or prepaid debit cards.

“The people who were burgling houses and burgling businesses — breaking in — they’re now going in and trying to defraud commercial businesses or they’re stealing people’s identities and trying to commit fraud online,” Bones said.

A switch to higher-security credit cards is coming in October, when computer chips will replace magnetic strips read by cash registers, making it harder to counterfeit cards. That is expected to cut down on store fraud. Thieves who have come to Idaho with cards embossed with stolen credit card numbers are expected to look for new ways to steal money, which could lead to more fraud through telephone calls or offers sent in the mail, Bones said.

“We’re really trying to educate the public, especially the people who are least familiar with some of these scams,” he said. “That’s going to be a big focus for us, on the prevention side, because it’s very difficult to get the money back on the back end.”

Bones said he has received three checks this year in his mail at home, one for nearly $2,000 and the others for about $3,000 each. All three were scams in which the senders ask a recipient to send back a portion of the check amount. Later, the “checks” bounce and the recipient owes the original amount plus bank fees, along with the money sent to the fraudster.

Bones said his wife, Jennifer, received a telephone call a few weeks ago from a person claiming to be an IRS agent and asking for an immediate payment for a fictitious bill.

“They threaten you that if you don’t pay right now, they’re going to send out a criminal warrant, a warrant of attachment or whatever they lie about,” Bones said. “The IRS will never call you first. They send out a letter. Even when you know it’s a fraud, it gives you that pit-of-the-stomach feeling.”

CALL VOLUME

Last year, Boise police handled 148,093 calls for service — an average of nearly 406 a day. That number has also dropped significantly over the past decade. The number of calls peaked at 201,509 in 2006 and showed a steady decline thereafter.

Fifty-one percent of the service calls last year came from the public, with the rest initiated by police. Dispatchers handled 3,161 calls to 911 from Boise residents last year, down 10 percent from the year before and 55 percent from 2005.

On average, it takes officers 8.5 minutes to respond to calls, beginning from when a dispatcher directs them and ending when they arrive at the scene. For emergency calls, the response time drops below four minutes, on average.

Last year, Boise officers wrote 28,458 incident reports. That number has also fallen each recent year, from 42,916 in 2006.

Arrests increased from 6,403 in 2013 to 6,630 last year. Of those, 75 percent were for misdemeanor crimes and 25 percent for felonies. The number of arrests has been under 7,000 the past three years. The high for the decade came in 2006, when 8,465 people were arrested.

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