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Most Utah crime victims don’t tell

Police aren’t being called, says survey on impact of crime

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Crime is one of the top concerns among Utahns, yet a majority of people who've been assaulted, robbed, vandalized or victimized by domestic violence didn't bother reporting to police, a recent study found.

The study, conducted by the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, is the first survey in Utah that looks into the impact of crime from victims' perspective. Commission executive director Camille Anthony was scheduled to report the findings to a legislative budget committee today.

While disturbing to victim advocates, the lack of reporting crimes in Utah is similar to findings in the National Crime Victimization Survey, which has been conducted annually since 1973. Cumulative results indicate that nationally, two-thirds of crimes go unreported to police.

"It's unsettling yes, but it wasn't surprising," said Mike Haddon, director of research and data at CCJJ. "It's really difficult to really dig into people's minds and figure out what's going on there."

"I've been a police officer for 30 years, and that's been our song for 30 years," said Lt. Col. Randy Johnson, of the Criminal Investigations and Technical Services Division of the Utah Department of Public Safety. "We've begged, we've pleaded. This is one of our major themes — please report. I don't know how we beg more."

The lowest reporting took place in cases of domestic violence, where 87 percent of victims said they did not tell police. The study found that 58 percent of the victims experienced violence multiple times and 10 percent experienced violence 10 or more times.

Such low reporting is not a new problem in the fight against domestic violence, according to Judy Kasten Bell, administrator for the Utah Domestic Violence Advisory Council. Nationally, however, Kasten Bell notes that statistics gathered by the FBI show that in the last 20 years the rate of reporting domestic violence incidents jumped from every 15 seconds to every nine seconds.

"From that long-term perspective, more people are reporting, but it is still a very under-reported crime," Kasten Bell said. "When you're enmeshed in the chaos of domestic violence what you want to do is get to safety and have it be over. Many times calling the police isn't the first thing that comes to your mind."

The CCJJ study found that one of the main reasons people don't report crimes like domestic violence is because they know the offender.

"They're afraid of reparation from the perpetrator or they think, 'I don't want to get my friend in trouble,' " Haddon said.

Seventy-two percent of victims who were assaulted without a weapon did not report the crime and just under 72 percent knew their attacker. More than half of the victims of robbery and assault with a weapon did not report the crime. Two-thirds of the victims assaulted with a weapon knew the perpetrator.

With nonviolent crimes such as theft or burglary, many victims simply felt the crime didn't merit calling police.

Incidents of vandalism were not reported by 74 percent of victims. Breaking and entering was not reported by 57 percent of victims.

In those type of crimes, victims commonly felt that the incident was not serious enough to call police, CCJJ's Haddon said.

Police, however, say no crime is too insignificant to report. The more crimes police are aware of, the better they can monitor trends in the community and prevent the growth of more serious crimes.

"I consider crime to be like a painting canvas and with every stroke that goes on, the picture becomes clearer," Johnson said.

Despite not reporting crimes, two-thirds of those surveyed rated law enforcement in their community as good or very good. And despite a 21-year low in reported crimes in the state, 46 percent of Utahns said they believed crime had increased over the prior three years, and 60 percent said they expected crime to continue climbing in the next three years.

The study, conducted by mail, was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. CCJJ plans to continue the survey every two years to begin compiling comparative statistics, Haddon said.

The survey sample was drawn from the Drivers License Database, which includes the most comprehensive collection of Utahns over age 16.

E-MAIL: djensen@desnews.com