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Homicides spike sharply in Utah, hitting 20-year high

Posted at 10:42 PM, Oct 04, 2021

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah — Homicides are on the rise in Utah, hitting the highest numbers ever as far back as online records go, which is more than 20 years.

New numbers set to be officially released by the Department of Public Safety Tuesday as part of the Crime in Utah 2020 annual report, show murders increased by 30 percent between 2019 and 2020.

The Beehive State is growing, but according to DPS data, the rise doesn't match the spike in population.

"In previous years where we have maybe seen 60 or 70 homicides, in 2020 we saw 93 homicides," explained Joe Dougherty, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Public Safety. He continued, "These are not accidental homicides that may have been caused by a car accident or something. These were violent crimes. So, it's sobering to us to see that we had a significant increase in 2020."

He called 93 homicides a "real, true" increase. In 2019, DPS reported 71 homicides. In 2018, it was 64.

DPS released all the homicide-related statistics to Fox 13 upon request, ahead of Tuesday's public debut of the full Crime in Utah 2020 report.

The report breaks down information about victims and offenders like age, sex, race, relationship, circumstances, and weapon used. Graphs and charts track homicide timelines including month, day of the week, time of day, and more.

There were 133 offenders in the 93 homicides, indicating multiple offenders in some of the murders.

According to the data, 15-to19-year-olds served as the largest single age group responsible for killing others.

A majority of the murders in Utah-- 67 percent-- involved a gun as the weapon used. A handgun specifically was used in 41 percent of the homicides.

The month of May saw the most activity for murders compared to other months, as did Fridays and Saturdays when compared to other days of the week.

A large percentage of homicides took place in the evening and nighttime hours.

While "relationship unknown" accounted for just under 41 percent of homicides, most offenders were listed as acquaintances or friends, at 25 percent and 7.5% percent, respectively.

An increase in murder in 2020, Dougherty pointed out, isn't unique to Utah.

"This isn't just Utah problem," he said. "This is a problem across the entire United States. If you look at the FBI data, you'll see that there was an increase nationwide in the number of homicides in 2020."

So, what can Utah do about this?

Dougherty indicated that's what comes next.

"These are real questions that are being asked among the entire justice community," Dougherty explained. "What are the best things that we can implement as a state? What are the best laws? What are the best preventative measures that we can do? And how do we need to be just as a society in general, and are there things that we can do to prevent these from happening in the future?"

That's why the state tracks this data, he said, to help inform lawmakers and the public-- and potentially lead to change in laws and in the community.

Dougherty said they plan to start a Justice Reinvestment Initiative Tour, where top justice officials from the state government meet with communities to talk about how to make the justice system better.

DPS plans to go live with the Crime in Utah 2020 report Tuesday morning, and can be accessed at this link.