FLORENCE - Finalized crime statistics from 2021 show a decrease in the number of felony cases charged by the Pinal County Attorney's Office.
After seeing an uptick in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic began, the number of felony filings decreased in 2021 by roughly 14%. The Pinal County Attorney's Office filed a total of 2,308 felony cases in 2021.
"In the last five or six years, we've seen...a significant reduction in the number of felonies occurring," said County Attorney Kent Volkmer. "2021 was...actually the lowest number of felonies charged in over a decade and that is despite the fact that we've seen a greater than 3% annual increase in our population."
Volkmer noted the many contributing factors to a continued decrease in the number of felony cases.
"We've got great law enforcement partners, we've got great probation partners, the court gets it," he said. "Just a collective effort amongst the criminal justice partners to really differentiate between those that are truly dangerous and those that need help. Those that are dangerous, we're locking away where they can't commit those offenses. Those that need help, we're trying our best to provide that help and as a result they're not recidivating and committing additional crimes in our community."
Drug offenses topped the list of most felony cases filed, with 955. That represents 41.4% of felony cases filed in 2021, which is roughly equal to it's typical share of cases.
Some of the most frequently charged cases in 2021 are as follows:
- Drug Offenses: 955 cases (41.4%)
- Assault: 307 cases (13.3%)
- Theft: 181 cases (7.8%)
- DUI 109 cases (4.7%)
- Weapons 88 cases (3.8%)
- Sex offenses: 58 cases (2.5%)
2021 saw 16 homicide cases. That represents just 0.7% of all felony cases filed in Pinal County.
"2020, we had a record high number of homicides charged and that was 26; now, that's 26 too many, but 2021 by comparison was about 16 total cases," Volkmer said. "We're not seeing that 30% increase, or sometimes higher in some of our major cities. 2020 did see a significant increase but 2021 saw that drop by almost 40%."
When contextualizing 2,308 felony cases charged last year, Volkmer said in a perfect world crimes wouldn't be committed, but noted the relatively low total number of crimes in Pinal County when comparing against other areas.
"Per resident, we're at about half the national rate for crimes occurring," he said. "We're less than half the rate of Maricopa County. We're about a third of the rate that's in Pima County. From a safety perspective, these are very good numbers."
While overall trends are heading in a positive direction, Volkmer noted the increasing prevalence of weapons crimes. Felony filings for weapons-related crimes have increased each of the past three years, with 54 cases in 2019; 75 cases in 2020 and 88 cases in 2021.
"Obviously that's very troubling," Volkmer said.
Volkmer also noted a general increase in sex offenses, although he said that is likely due to increased awareness leading to more people coming forward to make a report.
Looking ahead to 2022, Volkmer expressed a desire to see continued decreases in felony cases, but also made clear the need to hold people responsible.
"We want to hold people accountable," he said. "Our office is data informed, not data driven. We'll engage in things, we'll focus on things, we'll potentially offer diversion to people and what we do is we offer diversion then we look back afterwards and say, 'have these people been successful, what's worked, what hasn't worked?' Data helps us either validate or find out what we're doing is not working. We're not data driven, though, we're not specifically trying to get a number because that can lead to bad habits."