Sioux City’s violent crime increased slightly in 2016, but trending down in 2017
SIOUX CITY | Sioux City saw a slight uptick in violent crime during 2016, according to a recently released annual report. But preliminary numbers from this year show it could be back on the decrease.
Overall, the data shows Sioux City’s crime numbers continue to remain low compared with the city’s higher-crime years in the 1990s, as well as compared with the current national average and crime statistics in other large Iowa cities.
Sioux City experienced 365 violent crimes in 2016, the city’s second-highest total in the past decade, according to data released this fall in the FBI’s annual Crime in the U.S. Report. That number increased approximately 5.5 percent from the 346 violent crimes in 2015.
Both years brought the city’s highest totals since 2007, when the city experienced 373 violent crimes.
The FBI classifies violent crime as murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery. It compiles and refines statistics reported by local police departments each year and publishes them the following fall as part of the report.
Slight increases in robberies (54 in 2015 to 59 in 2016) and aggravated assaults (250 to 265) drove Sioux City’s 2016 rise in violent crime, according to the report. Sioux City also reported one homicide -- down from two in 2015 -- and 40 rapes, the same number as the previous year.
So far this year, SCPD crime analyst Marie Divis said through Nov. 30, Sioux City has totaled 215 violent crimes, signaling that the numbers are likely to trend downward next year. Those statistics could slightly change in the final FBI report, however, because of how the FBI refines the classification of the statistics based on its reporting criteria.
Regardless, Divis said, the best indicator of violent crime, the homicide rate, continues to be well below the national average in Sioux City.
“That’s a good way to look at violent crimes,” she said. “You can’t hide those.”
Sioux City, with an estimated population of 82,819 in 2016, had one homicide that year, making its rate much lower than the average 5.3 homicides per 100,000 people nationwide. Sioux City has had two homicides so far in 2017, putting it on pace to remain much lower than average.
The city’s lone homicide of 2016 came Feb. 17, when 50-year-old Vernon Mace died of multiple stab wounds after an incident in the 1900 block of West First Street. Police arrested 47-year-old Elias W. Wanatee in connection with the incident, and Wanatee was sentenced in April 2017 to 50 years in prison for second-degree murder.
The two homicides so far this year include a June 3 incident in which James R.D. Purcell, 21, was stabbed to death near 420 17th St. The other was a July 23 incident in which 36-year-old Vincent Walker was confronted by three people, one of whom stabbed him four times while another hit him with a baseball bat. Daniel Levering, 29, was arrested three days later and charged with first-degree murder. He has since pleaded not guilty.
Divis said overall the city’s 2016 increase in violent crime was a small one.
“We’re looking at a difference of about 20 crimes, which is a very negligible change,” she said.
Police Chief Rex Mueller said violent crimes are typically “crimes of passion” in the heat of a moment, which makes them difficult to predict and prevent. The best deterrent, he said, is to catch and penalize major offenders, which is one of SCPD’s main focus points.
“When the bad guys feel that they can hide, like they’re anonymous, they flourish,” he said. “When bad guys feel like they’re identified and they don’t have the room to work, you can kind of suppress that criminal activity.”
Nationwide, violent crime increased 4.1 percent in 2016, compared to 2015 data. It was the second year in a row in which violent crime has risen. Property crime -- those classified as burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft and arson -- dropped 1.3 percent, marking the 14th consecutive year the collective estimates for these offenses declined.
In Sioux City, property crimes decreased to 3,247 in 2016, down from 3,496 in 2015. That number may increase in 2017, Divis said, as the department had totaled 3,138 incidents as of Nov. 30.
Comparisons to national numbers or even other cities are imperfect, Mueller said, due to differences in reporting and the many unique factors that play into crime in each city. The FBI each year also cautions against simplistic rankings of cities and counties based solely on the report’s statistics.
“Unless that you can find a city that’s Sioux City’s size in a similar region along an interstate, near a river, with a similar economic outlook, you’re really comparing apples and oranges very often,” Mueller said.
But Divis and Mueller said with this in mind, the department does look at how Sioux City compares to the nationwide averages and other large Iowa cities each year.
Des Moines -- Iowa’s most populous city with 211,501 residents -- saw 1,497 violent crimes in 2016, including 13 homicides. Cedar Rapids, the second-most populous at 131,181, saw 387 violent crimes and four homicides, and Davenport, the third-most at 103,118, had 750 violent crimes and seven homicides.
Iowa City, which is Iowa’s fifth-most populous at 75,527, saw 197 violent crimes and zero homicides.
“Looking at the data, we do pretty well,” Divis said. “Sioux City is a very safe community when you look at our violent crimes.”
The most important comparisons, she said, are with previous years in Sioux City. A big-picture look shows crime has been consistently down since the peak levels of the 1990s.
The 1995 Crime in the U.S. report tallied more than 1,400 violent crimes in Sioux City, of which over 1,200 were aggravated assaults -- nearly five times as many as 2016. The number of violent crimes has shown an overall decrease since then and has not risen above 400 since 2005.
Mueller said the department keeps a close eye on nationwide trends and has recently seen a rise in gun violence, both nationally and locally. He said incidents such as the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas have influenced police department tactics.
Sioux City has additionally had three police officers shot in the past four years after having none for the past 30 years.
“Certainly the violence against us has escalated,” he said.