Leibo At Large Worst state?: Hardly, when you look at the facts

By David Leibowitz

You live in Arizona for a few decades, you get used to our state’s inferiority complex: Reporters and residents here love to bash the place. I’ve never lived anywhere that so reveled in national studies and stories calling out its glaring shortcomings.

Some headlines ripped from the pages of real life:

“Arizona Ranked One of the Worst States to Raise a Family, According to New Study.” And: “Arizona Ranked Worst State in the Country for Teachers.” And: “Arizona Ranks Worst in the Country for Food Waste.”

The coup de grace, as determined by CNBC in July: “Desert in Distress? New Study Ranks Arizona as Worst Place to Live in 2021.”

Memo to CNBC: I checked the prime-time ratings for all TV networks. Don’t feel bad about finishing 62nd, one spot ahead of the Motor Trend channel. You did pull 249,000 viewers at peak viewing time. In a country of 330 million people, that’s a whole lot of upside.

Anyway, rather than celebrate Arizona’s perpetual worstness, I’m here today with some uplifting news.

It’s likely you’ve been hearing that our country is in the middle of a national homicide epidemic, with the murder rate spiking about 30% in 2020. In the last few days, a dozen major American cities have set new annual records for killings — with three weeks remaining in 2021. In Philly, Indianapolis, Portland and Louisville, folks are murdering one another like crazy. Even Tucson — which I’ve always considered merely boring — set a new record for homicides in the year, with 80 murders as of Dec. 7.

Given Arizona’s affinity for guns, you’re probably thinking, well, we must be atop the state list? Nope.

The homicide rate in Arizona jumped 30% between 2019 and last year. But — and it’s a big but — that’s merely average. In South Dakota, the murder literally tripled over the same time span. It spiked 66% in Wisconsin and 54% in Georgia and Delaware. Pennsylvania saw murders jump by 49%.

At the end of the day, Arizona’s murder rate of 6.9 intentional killings per 100,000 residents ranks a mere 22nd out of the 50 states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico.

That’s right about the middle of the pack. A solid C. Ordinary. Who would’ve thought?

How do I explain this ranking? In two ways.

First, as one of the fastest-growing states in the country, Arizona has added about 800,000 new residents over the past decade. Our homicidal maniacs and gun loons can’t keep up with all the moving vans and California transplants.

My second explanation is slightly more complicated. In big cities around the United States, there has been a push to demonize police officers and defund police departments, an absurd movement that has attracted support in Tucson (see above), Phoenix (where homicides jumped 44% between 2019 and last year) and Tempe (which logged eight murders in both 2019 and 2020).

The rest of Arizona has mostly rejected such nonsense, perhaps because most Arizonans have some common sense: We understand law enforcement is not perfect and should be both supported for the good it does and held accountable for its flaws and bad actors.

But communities — or a nation — that spends years screeching about evil cops should not be surprised when actual murderous evil takes root in place of the many quality officers who have found themselves under attack.

The moral to the story? Arizona is actually a fine place to live. Comparatively low taxes, solid economy, rising home values, incomparable weather. The Copper State is killing it. Just not like they’ve been killing it lately in South Dakota and Wisconsin.