Crime statistics can be viewed many ways. When the FBI reported this week that violent and property crimes declined nationwide in 2007 from the previous year, that was widely seen as good news.
It should be. While the average person on the street may believe crime is on the rise an opinion fueled when groups such as the Guardian Angels take up shop in Salt Lake City the truth is crime dropped considerably in the 1990s, and it hasn't risen much since. The two years prior to 2007 saw increases of 2.3 percent and 1.9 percent in violent crime, so last year's decrease didn't quite erase the trend. But things have held fairly steady since 2000.
But overall statistics don't tell the story. Crime is an individual problem. Its victims don't make up a group. They are people whose individual lives are changed in dramatic and permanent ways. Its perpetrators also are individuals, and often their lives have sordid and sad details, as well. Often, the only ones in a position to tell when a person has become a danger to the community are the ones closest to that person, and yet they often are victims, too.
Crime rates seldom matter to either victims or perpetrators. But active community policing and programs that aggressively interdict troubled youths can prevent tragedies and, in turn, reduce the rates.
Most Utah cities fared well in the newly released statistics. West Valley City, however, is a glaring exception. Violent crime there rose more than 23.5 percent in one year. Murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults all were up. We hope police and residents there find ways soon to intervene and prevent the state's second largest city from gaining a reputation that will be hard to shake.
The rest of the state should fight the urge to feel complacency. Television is filled with "true crime" programs and violent fictional shows. People can become used to it all. They also can get the impression the world is much more dangerous than it is.
A slight decline in crime rates nationally is a good thing. But no one should abandon the responsibility to look out for his neighbor or to be alert to potential trouble. Everyone should be active in keeping Utah safe.