While cities across the United States have seen dramatic spikes in homicide rates in recent years, data shows Salem’s violent crime rates are rising at a more gradual pace.
Homicide rates in the United States have increased in recent years amid the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest. The FBI reported a nearly 30% increase in murders in 2020, the biggest one-year jump since the bureau began recording crime statistics six decades ago.
Similarly, major cities across the country have seen their homicide rates skyrocket. Portland recorded 55 homicides in 2020, the most in 26 years. Then the city surpassed its all-time high last year with 90 homicides, the Associated Press reported.
The spike alarmed Oregonians. A survey of 500 people conducted late last year by DHM Research found homelessness and crime to be among the top issues in the Portland area. Oregon’s 19 gubernatorial candidates for the May 17 primary election have agreed on the need for more police in the state, not just for homelessness, but for a general increase in the crime.
The latest data shows that the violent crime rate in Oregon’s capital, while generally on the rise, has done so at a steady pace, particularly over the past six years, according to Uniform Crime Reporting statistics ( UCR) from the Salem Police Department.
Violent crimes include homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. The rate reflects the number of crimes per 100,000 people.
According to Dr. Miyuki Arimoto, James Bents and Mari Sakiyama, professors and instructors of the Division of Criminal Justice Sciences at Western Oregon University.
The numbers changed in 2016, and violent crime rates have steadily increased since then, the professors said in their analysis of police department data.
The data shows turbulent changes from year to year. The city saw violent crime rates drop 17% in 2010, for example, and increase 18% in 2017.
Last year, Salem’s violent crime rate rose 10%, compared with slight declines in the previous two years, the data showed.
Homicides have fluctuated considerably from year to year. Police recorded nine homicides in 2021 – a 50% jump from the previous year, but on par with the number of murders in 2019.
Aggravated assault accounts for the largest share of violent crime in Salem, with 620 cases in 2021. Reports of rape remained the same last year, while robbery and aggravated assault increased by 12 % and 17%, respectively.
Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack expressed concern about the rising violent crime rate in the city, citing an overall increase of 35% since 2007.
“The dynamics of violent crime have changed as our city has grown,” Womack said. “These crimes inflict the greatest harm on individual victims, while instilling rightful fear in the affected neighborhoods. Our job is to reduce these numbers intelligently while building trust with our community. It takes time, effort and Resource.”
In 2019, Salem’s violent crime rate was lower than similar-sized cities across the country: 431 per 100,000 residents.
In US cities with between 100,000 and 249,999 residents, the crime rate was 452 per 100,000 in 2019, according to the latest FBI data. National figures show violent crime rates are down 29% in comparable cities since 2007.
In 2021, Salem’s violent crime rate reached 463 per 100,000. The FBI has not yet released UCR data for 2020 or 2021.
Property crime rates have also changed over the past 15 years. The data shows rates have been on a general downward trend in Salem since 2007, except for an “erratic” spike in 2017, WOU professors said.
Property crime rates include burglary, auto theft, robbery and arson. Although the property crime rate has decreased in Salem, it remains significantly higher than in cities of similar size.
Reports of arson over the past two years have increased nearly 160% in Salem. Police recorded 135 arson attacks in 2021 alone, a 15-year high.
But overall, property crime rates have fallen by 20% since 2018; the last recorded peak was 15% in 2017.
Last year, the property crime rate was 3,939 per 100,000. Similar-sized cities across the country have a rate of 2,704 per 100,000, according to FBI data.