Sahuarita is the safest town in Arizona, and Oro Valley is a close second.
A national real estate brokerage company ranked the two Tucson-adjacent towns as being the safest towns with more than 10,000 residents in the state; Oro Valley was also named one of the top 10 safest suburbs in the country.
But two local number- crunchers question the methodology the company used to arrive at the conclusions.
The rankings were created by Movoto Real Estate, a national brokerage company based in San Mateo, Calif., and licensed in 30 states.
The company, which often puts out “Best Of” and “Worst Of” lists concerning cities, said it used 2012 FBI crime reports and, for the Arizona report, gathered information about violent crime, property crime and population for municipalities with 10,000 or more residents. The company then assigned a weight to each component.
“Violent crime made up 50 percent of our ranking, property crime made up 30 percent, and a resident’s chances of being the victim of a crime made up 20 percent,” according to its website.
Other safe Arizona cities in the company’s rankings were: Gilbert, Florence, Paradise Valley, Somerton, San Luis, Maricopa, Surprise and Lake Havasu City. Marana and Nogales tied for 15th safest.
Meanwhile, Tucson was ranked as the most unsafe city — No. 42 on the list — with more than 10,000 residents in Arizona by the company. Phoenix, with its nearly 1.5 million residents, came in 37th.
While Movoto used FBI statistics as a base for its rankings, it is in the percentages of how much weight those categories had where the company’s assessment breaks down, according to two University of Arizona experts.
“My question is, how did (they) obtain the weight of each criteria? It says, for example, that ‘Violent crime made up 50 percent of our ranking,’ ” said Grethe Hystad, an instructor of mathematics at the UA. “What is the basis for that number? A different choice of weight would have given a different result.”
Keisuke Hirano, head of the department of economics in the UA’s Eller College of Management, agrees the weight assigned to each component “seems to be arbitrary.”
“Crime is a complex phenomenon, and simple rankings like this one aren’t very useful for making important decisions,” he said. “If you’re thinking about whether to move to a city, crime rates are just one of many factors you should consider, and even then, your choice of neighborhood and activities will have a big impact on how much crime you experience.”
Even the FBI, on its website, advises against taking its crime statistics at face value.
“To assess criminality and law enforcement’s response from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, one must consider many variables, some of which, while having significant impact on crime, are not readily measurable or applicable pervasively among all locales,” the FBI says.
Population is one of the variables that must be considered, but it goes beyond the number of people living in a community. Consideration needs to be given to age, mobility, economic status, and cultural, educational, recreational and religious characteristics, the FBI website says. Even climate can be factored into an assessment, the FBI says.
A failure to give weight to such factors may be the reason Tucson came in at the bottom of the Arizona rankings.
The city recorded 3,851 violent crimes in 2012 in a population of just under 532,000. The number of property crimes was not included in the FBI’s report because the Tucson Police Department did not follow the national Uniform Crime Reporting Program guidelines for some offenses.
“The problem with those numbers (in the Movoto list) is a lot of those towns they’re listing have extremely low populations, and then you’re comparing those with cities that are 500,000-plus to over a million and it kind of skews those numbers,” said Sgt. Pete Dugan, a TPD spokesman. “That’s like comparing a city of 10 people and one person commits a crime, that’s 10 percent of the population.
“If you look at us as a national average of similar cities, we were at or below the national average in every category for violent crimes and property crimes” except larcenies, he said, and that was due to an anomaly in the Southwest.
Arizona and surrounding states have an unusually high number of beer skips and like crimes, Dugan said. In an effort to bring down the number of larcenies, Tucson police in January established a Larceny Unit to deal with chronic problems and repeat offenders.
Yet no matter how the numbers are crunched, Sahuarita, with a population of about 26,000, had just 11 violent crimes and 374 property crimes in 2012, according to the FBI. And Oro Valley, with about 42,000 residents, had 21 violent crimes and 679 property crimes.
Both departments promote community policing, a system of partnerships and problem-solving with the residents they serve.
“One of the things we pride ourselves on is the fact that we know we have such a great relationship with our community,” said Oro Valley Police Chief Daniel Sharp. “We know people call us when there’s a concern or something going wrong. The partnerships and relationships and trust we have with the public — that the public is calling us — that’s part of the key to addressing issues.”
A 2013 community survey commissioned by the town shows residents appreciate the efforts of the 100-person police force.
When residents were asked what they most valued about living in Oro Valley, safety topped the list, followed by scenery, a sense of community, a laid-back lifestyle and the rural setting.
John Mead moved to Oro Valley from out of state less than a year ago. While a low crime rate wasn’t at the top of his list of criteria when deciding where to move, it was a consideration.
“These days it’s so easy to look at crime statistics online, and I found that many of the real estate websites, you can click on and look at the community profile and there will be all kinds of data,” he said.
Of course, one can’t trust everything found online, but “certainly after looking at lots of different areas and comparing it to other parts of the country, you can get a feel for the safety of a community,” Mead said.
In addition to high-visibility traffic enforcement, the Oro Valley Police Department offers services designed to prevent crime, including pairing officers with business owners to address concerns, enlisting citizen volunteers, offering to check homes for residents on vacation, providing free assessments of home-security, fostering Neighborhood Watch programs and hosting a summer Teen Academy for students.
“We’d rather engage in prevention activities than responding after the fact. That’s where we put a lot of our resources, in prevention,” Sharp said. “Anything we can do from a prevention standpoint … all of those things add to the quality of life, keep the crime out and keep the crime low.
“I can’t say the reason Oro Valley is safe is because of the Police Department. That’s certainly a part of it, but it truly is the holistic, symbiotic relationship between residents, businesses, organizations and the Police Department,” he said.
Sahuarita Police Department Crime Prevention Officer Mike Blevins credits community outreach programs for minimizing crime, as well.
“We’re very tuned-in and partnered-in with the community in the aspect of neighborhood watch. That’s one venue in which we are very active with the citizens,” Blevins said.
It is these kinds of interactions with the community that engender familiarity and trust between the 43-person police force and the residents, Blevins said.