Fact Check: Rep. Owens on SLC murders, police budget cuts

Burgess Owens.jpg
Posted at 5:24 PM, Apr 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-30 19:34:35-04

SALT LAKE CITY — On Tuesday, Utah's 4th District Congressman Burgess Owens went on Fox News for an interview about police budgets, crime and Republican strategy for communicating their law enforcement message.

His message was aimed at city leaders, notably starting with numbers about Salt Lake City.

"This defund the police, I just want to say it in one word - It's betrayal. In my city, Salt Lake City, they defunded by 5 million dollars," Owens said.

Continuing the conversation, Owens said politicians behind the budget cuts were "heartless," and that they "couldn't care care less about the death."

Looking at the numbers, it's hard to draw conclusions about murder rates in Salt Lake City.

In-Depth: Public safety during the pandemic

With just over 197,000 people, the city had 13 murders in 2019 and 18 in 2020, according to data provided by police on their website. That is in an increase of just over 38%, so Owens' claim of 40% is close enough.

But such small numbers make the statistics unreliable to suggest a cause or trend. A national trend is clear according to the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice. They conducted a study using homicide rates in 21 major cities, all larger than Salt Lake. Those cities averaged a 29% increase in homicides from the pandemic months of 2020 and the same months in 2019. That would suggest Salt Lake City saw a bigger jump. But Salt Lake's rate of murder per 100,000 people is about half of the rate for the cities in the National Study.

Conclusion: Salt Lake City is most likely part of a national trend of increasing murders but the numbers are too small to be definitive.

The next claim from Owens was less accurate. He said Salt Lake "defunded" the police by $5 million.

The city actually cut the budget $3.1 million for fiscal year 2021, and $2.8 million of that is being kept to the side to use after getting recommendation from the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing.

The city also funded a new social work program to help intervene in crisis situations which is not part of the police budget and the four percent cut did not cut any staff from the department.

It's also important to note that the budget was for fiscal year 2021 running from July 2020 to June 2021. That means half the year in question was before the cuts and half after.

Conclusion: it's inaccurate to connect the budget to the increase in murders, especially in a year with so many other complicating factors,