By Jim Walsh, GSN Staff Writer

Property crime dropped in East Valley cities during 2017, consistent with a nationwide trend that has been noted in the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime report for the past 15 years.

The biggest declines were in Mesa and Chandler, while Gilbert’s already low numbers dropped a little further, according to a Tribune analysis of the numbers released by the FBI for 2016 and 2017.

While the FBI also noted a troubling 9.5 percent increase in violent crime in Arizona as a whole from 2016 to 2017, that trend did not extend into the East Valley cities.

Only Chandler registering a relatively small increase in violent crime, primarily in aggravated assaults related to domestic violence.

The Arizona spike in violent crimes was apparent in Phoenix, where more than 1,800 more violent crimes were reported last year than in 2016.

Arizona’s violent crime numbers for last year were up 7.9 percent over the previous year, while violent crime nationally dropped by 0.2 percent in 2017 after two consecutive years of increases.

Nationally, property crime dropped 3 percent – the 15th consecutive year it has declined, according to FBI estimates.

The FBI’s annual report dates back to the agency’s inception in 1930 and is considered the nation’s most reliable measurement of crime, with 16,655 police agencies participating.

Gilbert’s crime statistics were almost identical in 2017 to 2016 in the violent crime category, where the town’s already miniscule numbers increased marginally to 207 in 2017 from 200 in 2016.

The already low property crime figures slid a little more – from 3,368 in 2016 to 3,355 last year, a drop of 0.39 percent. Burglaries dropped from 564 in 2016 to 466 in 2017.

“The encouraging thing is that our crime is relatively flat and consistent with what we have seen in past years,’’ Gilbert Police Chief Mike Soelberg said.

He said Gilbert’s own analysis of FBI statistics for municipalities with 100,000 people or more indicates that Gilbert is the second safest city in the nation, behind only Irvine, California.

He said one unfortunate trend police have noted so far in 2018 is an uptick in property crimes, with a jump in thefts of items left in plain sight in unlocked cars.

“It’s the simple things,’’ Soelberg said. “If people could lock their doors and hide their belongings, that would be a big help.’’

Mesa’s violent crimes dropped by a mere four incidents, despite a small increase in homicides to 23 in 2017 from 19 in 2016.

The most significant change in Mesa was in property crimes, which dropped from 11,214 to 10,692 – a 4.7 percent reduction. That included fewer burglaries and 474 fewer thefts.

Dan Butler, the Mesa police’s executive commander, said the department’s crime-fighting model uses more up-to-date statistics to target crime on a daily basis.

Butler said Mesa also plays a pivotal role in fighting crime throughout the East Valley through the East Valley Fusion Center.

Fusion Center detectives from throughout the region share data to identify serial criminals as well as burglary or armed robbery rings that may be operating across the region rather than in one particular city.

“This is one reason we keep our crime low. We work with our partners,’’ Butler said. “We are vigilant about staying on top of all crime. In the end, we want to have a livable city. Every time there is a crime, there is someone who is a victim of crime.’’

Mesa Police Chief Ramon Batista is working to equip every patrol officer with a smart phone, probably within the next six to eight months, Butler said.

“It’s a leveraging of technology. They can utilize all the information we have to impact crime-fighting,’’ Butler said.

He said Mesa police are proud of the city’s ranking as the ninth safest city with a population over 300,000 in 2018 by safewise.com, a national website that evaluated crime rates from the FBI’s 2016 annual report.

Safewise ranked Virginia Beach, Virginia, as the safest city and Detroit as the most dangerous.

Phoenix was ranked 28th and Tucson was ranked 39th. Mesa’s violent crime rate was listed as 4.29 per 1,000 residents, and property crime was listed as 23.45 per 1,000 residents.

A related safewise study said Gilbert was the fourth safest municipality in Arizona. The only other maricopa County municipality ahead of Gilbert was Buckeye, which safewise rated the safest in the state.

The FBI reported that last year, Chandler recorded an increase in violent crimes with 647 in 2017 from 558 in 2016 – a 15.9 percent jump. Murder, rape and aggravated assault all increased while robbery decreased.

Chandler Police Chief Sean Duggan said in a statement that while the department has made significant progress in reducing burglaries and other property crimes, domestic violence remains a major contributor to many other crimes.

“In 2017, the city of Chandler experienced an overall reduction in Part 1 crime compared to 2016, making 2017 one of the safest years. This reduction was led by a nearly 18 percent reduction in residential burglaries,’’ Duggan wrote.

“However, an increase in aggravated assaults contributed to an uptick in overall crimes against persons compared to the prior year,” he said, adding:

“Alarmingly, roughly 30 percent of aggravated assaults were domestic violence related. As an area of concern, we are examining root causes leading to this increase and will continue our outreach, public awareness and enforcement efforts to help alter the trajectory.”