The latest police data show reported crimes fell in Phoenix and Tucson during the second quarter of the year, a period in which Arizonans were largely confined to their homes by the governor’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order.

But while property crimes in both cities fell, violent crime in Phoenix rose sharply in the quarter, driven largely by a 14.6% increase in aggravated assaults compared to the first three months of the year.

Tucson also saw a rise in aggravated assaults, but not large enough to offset the overall drop in other violent crimes – murders, rapes and robberies.

Michael Scott, a criminology professor at Arizona State University, said the increase likely reflects a “rising tide” of stress, frustration and anger among Arizonans during the pandemic.

“Because a high percentage of these crimes are between acquaintances, intimate partners or family members, the increase is most likely due to the added emotional stress and anger attributable to people being confined to their homes with one another, and from lost household income,” Scott said.

On the other hand, total property crimes in both cities saw steep drops, as many people were stuck in their homes for longer periods of time.

“Reported burglaries are down 25%, most likely due to the fact that people are occupying their homes around the clock now, rather than leaving them unoccupied for eight to 10 hours a day under normal conditions,” Scott said, referring to the Phoenix data.

“Reported thefts are down slightly, about 10%, and this is likely due also to occupied homes and some businesses being closed,” he said.

Calls seeking comment from the two departments on the data were not returned. Other police departments around the state that were contacted for their crime data did not immediately respond.

The data comes from the departments’ monthly crime statistic reports that are provided to the FBI for its Uniform Crime Reporting system.

The increase in aggravated assaults began in March, as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to be felt in Arizona, with schools being closed, nonessential businesses being urged to curtail operations, and bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters and more ordered to shut down or curtail operations.

In Phoenix, assaults went from 583 in February to 712 in March and 805 in April. In Tucson, assaults rose from 161 in February to 183 in March.

Gov. Doug Ducey followed with a stay-at-home order that took effect March 30 and remained in place through April and into May, expiring May 15.

Aggravated assaults started to tail off again from May to June, going from 228 to 174 in Tucson and 893 to 780 in Phoenix.

Scott, who also serves as ASU’s liaison to the Phoenix Police Department, noted that arson is one property crime that appears to be rising in 2020 compared to 2019. Phoenix arsons grew from 104 in the first half of 2019 to 159 in the first six months of this year, while reported Tucson arsons rose from 83 to 107 over the same period.

Scott said he does not have enough information to fully support the theory, but suggested that financially desperate business owners could be committing more insurance fraud than before.

Police reports from late May to June would cover some of the protests that broke out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement after the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, but Scott doubts they had any real effect on the violent crime numbers.

“There will be some increase in assaults on police officers and assaults among protesters, but the vast majority of assaults have nothing to do with the protests,” he said.

Overall, Scott said the “crime picture is a mixed one, as most criminologists would have anticipated.”

“Massive social changes like the one caused by the pandemic will affect people’s motives and opportunities to commit crimes in various ways, some of which result in more crime, some in less,” he said.


Story by Brett Bavcevic, Cronkite News