According to statistics from 2017, Pinal County is the safest of Arizona’s five most populous counties. A recent annual budget revealed that the county spends $63.8 million per year on criminal justice related activities, but “I think you’re getting a pretty good bang for your buck,” said the Pinal County Attorney, Kent Volkmer.
The county has had 167 violent crimes per 10,000 people. The Maricopa County was twice as high 347, and it was 2.5 times as high in Pima County at 438. Even counties with less people — Pinal, Yavapai and Yuma — had higher crime ratios; Yavapai had a rate of 215 and Yuma’s was 223.
“I think you’ll see us even safer when the 2018 numbers come out,” he said.
The county’s arrest rate for violent crimes was 37 per 10,000 people. The ratio was 70 in Maricopa County, 73 in Pima, 67 in Yavapai, and 49 in Yuma. The county also had the lowest arrest rate for all crimes at 180 per 10,000 residents.
According Volkner, crime has made “steady, small declines” since the late 1980s.
The low crime rate can be attributed to three philosophies of prosecutors. The first one is a strict interpretation of the law, like the one previous Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles followed. Voyles had a philosophy of “individualized justice” or using “common sense when evaluating different cases,” and he would not prosecute cases he found unfair and counterproductive.
The county has had 700 fewer felony marijuana cases annually because Volkmer gives police officers the discretion to charge marijuana cases as misdemeanors.
“Law enforcement can make a much better field assessment” of whether a suspect should be charged with a felony, he said. The idea is “putting the right people in prison, not putting the wrong people in prison.” Volkmer wants to help them be successful.
Between 4,800 and 5,200 felony cases come to his office for review each year, but the number of cases being prosecuted is down to 2,876.
While crime is down, Volkmer believes reform is still necessary.
Less than 3 percent of those at the Arizona Department of Corrections are receiving the substance abuse treatment they need. This is “at least” the second sentence at ADC for more than half of the current inmates. According to federal statistics, 68 percent of prisoners will be arrested again within three years; 79 percent will be arrested again within six years; and 83 percent will be arrested again within nine years.