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Homicides in Utah spiked 44% in 2020, state report says

University of Utah athletes hold candles during a vigil for slain University of Utah football defensive back Aaron Lowe.
University of Utah athletes hold candles during a vigil for slain football defensive back Aaron Lowe at the U. on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. A new Utah report released Tuesday says violent crime was up in the state during 2020, including a dramatic 44% increase in the number of homicides.
Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

Violent crime was up in Utah in 2020, including a dramatic 44% increase in the number of homicides, according to the State Bureau of Criminal Identification.

On Tuesday, the Utah Department of Public Safety released its annual Crime in Utah Report report for 2020.

According to the state's statistics, there were 93 homicides in 2020. A firearm was used in 67% of those killings in Utah. A little over 15% of reported homicides in the state in 2020 were domestic, and the suspect and victim were previously acquainted with each other in an additional 25% of those killings.

The Deseret News counted a record 103 homicides in Utah in 2020. That report included fatal police shootings, which the state report does not count. A gun was used in 81 of the 103 homicides last year, or 79%.

The state also relies on individual police agencies to voluntarily submit crime statistics for the report. While the vast majority of agencies submitted data for the Crime in Utah Report, some did not.

According to statistics kept by KSL.com, this year is close to being on pace in Utah to matching 2020's homicide total. There were 69 homicides in Utah as of Oct. 5. Last year at this time there were 77.

Salt Lake City is well ahead of last year's pace. The shooting death of Aaron Lowe was the 13th homicide in the city this year, and the ninth resulting from gun violence. The city had eight homicides at this time last year.

In September, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown and Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced that crime was mostly headed in the right direction in the capital city. The overall crime rate in Salt Lake City from the beginning of the year through the end of August was down, according to the city. Property crimes (such as stolen property) and quality of life crimes (like vandalism) were down in most areas of the city.

But both the mayor and police chief said they were disturbed by the uptick in violent crime, especially among juveniles and young adults using guns.

"It is time to put down your guns. Too many lives are being impacted in our city because of firearms," Brown said.

Since Lowe's death on Sept. 26, there have been five additional homicides in Utah, including two in the Salt Lake Valley on Monday. All six deaths in the past week were the result of gunfire. The average age of the victims was 25. The average age of the alleged gunmen, in cases where an arrest was made, is 24.

Although the number of homicides in Utah increased dramatically during 2020, the Utah Department of Public Safety noted that the rate of homicides per 100,000 people in Utah is still less than half of the national average.

In addition to homicide, aggravated assault and robbery were also up in Utah in 2020, but the number of reported rapes was down.

Property crime across Utah was up 6% in 2020, including a dramatic 35% increase in motor vehicle thefts and a 41% increase in arson. The department stated Tuesday that property crime is rising faster than the national rate, including motor vehicle theft which is nearly 29% higher than the national average.

The spike in arsons, according to the state, was due in part to the civil unrest that happened around the state in May and June of 2020 following calls for police reform nationwide. The Salt Lake City riot occurred on May 30.

Other notes from the Crime in Utah Report:

  • The age group committing the overwhelming majority of robberies in Utah was between 15 and 19 years old.
  • The number of index crimes reported in Utah in 2020 (homicide, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson) is actually down from its peak in 2016.
  • A total of 84,050 arrests were reported in Utah during 2020, which is actually a 21% decrease from the year before.