The Ripple Effects of Crime

This is the fifth and final blog in a series analyzing 2019 County Health Rankings data.

Colorado’s violent crime rate increased slightly between 2012 and 2016, but it’s still well below the national average of 386 per 100,000 residents, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s 2019 County Health Rankings.

Violent crime and public health often aren’t discussed at the same time. But violent crime can influence health in a number of ways, such as deterring outdoor activities or creating a stressful neighborhood environment.

Violent crime is defined as an offense that involves face-to-face confrontation between the victim and the perpetrator. The rate per 100,000 residents includes homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.

The good news is that Colorado’s violent crime rate is low by national standards and has increased only slightly since the 2016 Health Rankings (which use 2012 data), from 318 violent crimes per 100,000 in 2012 to 326 per 100,000 in 2016. It’s also important to note that in Colorado and nationally, there has been a decrease in violent crime since the 1990s.

Where Is Violent Crime More Prevalent in Colorado?

Denver, Pueblo, and Clear Creek counties experienced higher rates of violent crime than the rest of Colorado. Denver and Pueblo had rates nearly double the state average, with 631 and 630 violent crimes per 100,000 people, while Clear Creek had 563 crimes per 100,000 people.

The counties with the lowest reported rates of violent crime were Jackson (0 per 100,000), Elbert (4 per 100,000), and Yuma (5 per 100,000). These counties also had no reported homicides for the reported years (2014 and 2016).

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Why Is Violent Crime High in Some Counties and Not Others?

Social and economic factors can drive violent crime. These factors include income inequality, education, and residential instability. Studies show neighborhoods with concentrated disadvantage experience higher levels of violent crime. But every neighborhood and county is unique, and what could be behind the rates for one county may not be the same as in another.

One possible reason for high crime rates in Denver and Pueblo is income inequality. Greater income inequality in a community is associated with higher rates of violent crime. (1) The County Health Rankings evaluate income inequality is based on the ratio of high-income households (80th percentile) to low-income households (20th percentile). A higher ratio indicates more inequality.

According to Health Rankings data, both Denver and Pueblo have income inequality rates significantly higher than the state average. Additionally, 24 percent of children in Pueblo live in poverty, double the state average (12 percent).

The lowest-crime counties have lower income inequality: Elbert, Jackson, and Yuma counties all are below the state average.

Low home ownership and residential instability are also associated with higher rates of violent crime. Research shows that residential instability might affect violence at least in part by, for instance, reducing community efficacy – a community’s ability to control the behavior of individuals or groups. (2)

According to the Health Rankings, Denver County has the lowest percentage of home ownership (50 percent) in the state, and continues to grapple with the rising costs of living, housing prices, and displacement. Pueblo also falls just below the state average (65 percent) at 63 percent home ownership.

Conversely, Elbert County has the state’s highest percentage of homeowners at 90 percent, and Jackson County has 70 percent.  

Clear Creek County, however, seems to be an outlier, with higher than average home ownership (77 percent), and very low income inequality (3.7). It's a reminder that there are many different factors that lead to violent crime.

It’s important to note that social and economic factors like income inequality and residential stability can be both the cause and result of violent crime. Violence can influence people to leave their neighborhood, and existing economic strains can influence violent crimes.

Assault and Rape Drive Violent Crime in Colorado

According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, 62 percent of the over 18,000 arrests for violent crimes committed in Colorado in 2016 (same year used for the 2019 Health Rankings) were for aggravated assault, 19 percent were for robbery, 19 percent were for forcible rape, and 1 percent were for homicide.

Colorado fares better than the national average for all types of violent crime except rape. Since 2012, Colorado’s rate of reported rape per 100,000 residents has steadily increased, from 40 in 2012 to 66 in 2017. The national average in 2017 was 42 per 100,000 residents.

Violent Crime Affects Health

Violent crime in a community can have many victims, both direct and indirect. Witnessing a crime or even living in a neighborhood troubled by crime can affect health.

Various studies point to the relationship between violent crime and poor health outcomes.

  • Residents of communities with high crime rates don’t exercise as much as they would like because they don’t feel safe outside, according to a 2014 national study in the American Journal of Public Health. Health Rankings data show that one in five adults in Pueblo report no leisure-time physical activity, higher than the state average (14 percent).
  • Another study showed increased stress levels for residents of communities with higher rates of violent crimes. The increased stress levels can contribute to stress-related disease, such as hypertension. 
  • Children and adolescents are also at higher risk for poor behavioral health outcomes if exposed to violence. A meta-analysis showed that children exposed to violence report behavioral problems, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.

What Are Denver and Pueblo Counties Doing To Address Violent Crime?

There’s no simple solution to stopping violent crime, but safety officials in Denver and Pueblo are looking at using data, increasing police presence, and engaging the community to address the issue in their communities.

  • Denver Department of Public Safety (DOS) released the Denver Opportunity Index. The hope is to provide a deeper understanding about neighborhoods to help public safety officials better decide where to invest resources.

  • The Denver Police Department increased its presence in areas that have higher violent crime rates. An example is more officers patrolling the 16th Street pedestrian mall in downtown Denver, which has resulted in an 8 percent drop in crime.
  • Pueblo also hopes to combat violent crime through increased police presence and community engagement. The goal is to build a partnership between police officers and the communities they serve by assigning uniformed officers a regular patrol area.  

Violent crime can affect the mental and physical health of a community. In counties like Denver and Pueblo, where rates are high, it’s important to address the drivers of violent crime at the local level, as every community is unique. Data tools like County Health Rankings and the Denver Opportunity Index — along with community engagement — can help safety officials and communities develop solutions that work and tailor them to their communities' needs.

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Related Blogs and Research

(1) Hipp, J. R. (2007). Income inequality, race, and place: Does the distribution of race and class within neighborhoods affect crime rates?. Criminology45(3), 665-697.

(2) Sampson, R. J., Raudenbush, S. W., & Earls, F. (1997). Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science277(5328), 918-924.