BOISE — Idaho’s crime rate dropped by just less than 2% in 2018, compared to the year before, but it dropped by 6% in Ada County while rising a half-percent in Canyon County.
The annual Crime in Idaho statistical report, released Tuesday by the Idaho State Police, showed that Idaho’s crime rate in 2018 was the lowest in the West and the sixth-lowest in the nation.
“If one measure of quality of life is crime rate and the amount of crime that’s being reported to the police, it’s a reflection of what we know and love about Idaho, which is generally a fairly safe place to live,” said Lisa Bostaph, a professor of criminal justice at Boise State University. But she cautioned that small increases or decreases aren’t necessarily statistically significant, and the numbers show only how much crime is reported to police — not how much is occurring, including crimes that go unreported.
“What we don’t know is, is there a difference between the amount of victimization that’s happening and the amount that’s actually getting reported?” she said. “What we’re seeing is the amount of crime that police departments and prosecutors are having to deal with decreased.”
Bostaph said she and her research team at BSU are currently working on the state’s first biannual victimization study, which will be published in 2020, funded by the Idaho Council on Domestic Violence and Victim Assistance. That will provide another piece to the puzzle, she said.
“For example, if you look at domestic violence, national reporting rates run now about 45 to 48 percent,” Bostaph said, “meaning that over half of all domestic assaults don’t ever get reported to the police.”
The report showed that the rate of violent crime was up by 1.95% in 2018, while assaults on officers dropped by 5.9%; property crimes dropped 6.5%; and drug crimes were up 9.6%, with the vast majority of those involving possession or use of drugs, not sales.
Bostaph said that figure is statistically significant and worth noting. “The interesting thing about drug crimes is that they’re not heavily dependent on reporting,” she said. “It’s not like people are generally calling and saying, ‘Somebody is using drugs in my home,’ or ‘Come here, there are drugs present in my home.’ So reporting may not be a factor so much in drug crimes.”
And while residences were the most common place for all types of crimes to occur in Idaho, the most common place for drug crimes — a majority of them, at 56 percent — was on Idaho’s roads and highways. Just under 20 percent were at residences.
Bostaph said police typically wouldn’t be pulling over motorists just for drugs, so, “They’re likely being stopped for something else,” then found to have drugs, either through a search incident to an arrest, probable cause from drugs or paraphernalia being openly visible, or through use of a drug-sniffing dog.
The report also showed a precipitous drop in hate crimes in Idaho, with just 26 reported in 2018, down by nearly half from the 51 reported in 2017. The 2017 figure was a five-year high; the numbers had been rising since 2015, after dropping from 41 in 2014.
“That’s a significant decrease,” Bostaph said. “Given the climate, it’s a surprising thing. … Given the climate in the last two years, three years, you would expect with marginalized communities reporting anecdotally to organizations they work with that they feel less welcome and they feel more hostility, that you would see that coming out in hate crimes.”
“Why are people somehow not feeling comfortable enough to report?” she asked. “It certainly could be that this is an aberration in reporting, which is why we want to look at trends, as opposed to one year.”
That’s an issue she said the pending victimization study could examine.
Despite Idaho’s low crime rates, the state has the highest incarceration rate among its neighbors and the 13th highest in the nation, according to a 2018 study released by the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy. Idaho has long shown that trend: more of its people behind bars, even as there’s less crime.
“Essentially, what the Crime in Idaho report likely reflects is that things are fairly stable in Idaho,” Bostaph said, which she said is interesting “given the influx of people coming to Idaho to live, at least in the last year.” Crime rates reflect the number of crimes per 100,000 population.
“My No. 1 takeaway is that it’s interesting data, it gives us a good perspective on what the criminal justice system is having to deal with in Idaho,” she said, “but it doesn’t tell us the whole story.”