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Fact Check: How much crime is committed by illegal immigrants?

   |  Posted May 3rd, 2010 @ 8:58pm


SALT LAKE CITY -- In the debate over tougher immigration laws in Utah, a lot of statistics are thrown around regarding how much crime undocumented immigrants commit.

Sunday morning on KSL's Sunday Edition, Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, cited numbers showing a huge amount of crime by those of Hispanic ethnicity. The statistic compares homicide arrest rates in the capitol city for the year of 2008, but some say it's all about how you interpret the numbers.

Salt Lake City Homicide arrests- 2008

Hispanic Non-Hispanic Unknown Ethnicity Total
9 2 7 18
Bureau of Criminal Identification

"From the Bureau of Criminal Identification -- and these are hard statistics -- in Salt Lake City, Chief [Chris] Burbank's jurisdiction, 81 percent of the homicides, when you have a recorded ethnicity, are committed by Hispanics," Wimmer told KSL's Bruce Lindsay.

The statistics Wimmer cited are widely circulated among proponents of tougher immigration laws. Wimmer told us he received the stat from Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo.


Herrod told KSL he received the numbers from Utah's Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI), so we analyzed those numbers.

According to the BCI statistics for 2008 in Salt Lake City (shown above), there were 18 arrests for various types of homicide. Of those, 9 arrests were of suspects described as Hispanic, two were non-Hispanic, and seven were of an unknown ethnicity.

Herrod says he discarded arrests in the "unknown" category because there was no way to tell what ethnicity they were, and that's how he came up with the percentage of 81.

"If somebody is listed as unknown, should they be counted? Well, you can't determine their ethnicity, so I believe they should be thrown ... that stat should be thrown out," Herrod said.

The Provo representative says that's the only way to examine stats right now, since documenting the race and ethnicity of criminals is not done on a regular basis.

It's a scare tactic to throw out there and say one population is more criminal. That is not the case.

–Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank

"That's a reason why we need good record keeping," Herrod says. "They shouldn't have been listed as 'unknown.' They should have been listed as as white, Hispanic, African American."

But Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank says that line of thought is flawed. He doesn't believe it is simply an issue of Hispanic versus non-Hispanic, but rather the focus needs to be on legal versus illegal.

"To throw out statistics because it's listed as other or unidentified as invalid, well that throws off your whole statistical balance of measure," Burbank said. "To say that 81 percent, or any number, it's not accurate."

Burbank says when you look at every race, not just Hispanic versus non-Hispanic, it paints a different picture. His department's police reports (in chart below) show 37 percent of homicide arrests in 2008 were of Hispanics, and that in 2009, that number dropped to 33 percent. Meanwhile, Hispanics make up about 20 percent of the city's population.

"It's a scare tactic to throw out there and say one population is more criminal. That is not the case," Burbank said.

Salt Lake City Homicide arrests

Caucasian Hispanic Polynesian African-American Native American Total
2007 2 7 4 2 0 15
2008 3 7 3 5 1 19
2009 1 1 0 1 0 3
Total 6 15 7 8 1 37
% of total 16% 40% 19% 22% 3% -
Salt Lake City Police Dept.

Burbank says an overall view at the state's jail population is a better indicator of how many illegal immigrants are committing crimes, rather than looking at Hispanics specifically. The Sutherland Institute conducted one such study last year.

"There's around 5 percent of the county populations, or the prison populations, is undocumented," explained Derek Monson, spokesman for the Sutherland Institute.

Herrod says he stands by his interpretation of the BCI statistics. He refutes the Sutherland Institute's study and says there are several flaws in the way they collected data.


Story compiled with contributions from Jennifer Stagg and Nicole Gonzales.

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