The Hartmans love their new home in Idaho Falls.
“I feel safe here,” Colette Hartman said.
As she spoke, her 4-year-old son, Eli, and 2-year-old son, Ted, rode trikes outside the family’s west side home on the corner of Brentwood Drive and Crestview Avenue.
Hartman and her husband, Erik, moved to the area after Erik took a job at Idaho National Laboratory. When it came time to find a home, Hartman said their children’s safety was their main concern.
According to 2013 Idaho Falls Police crime reports, the Hartmans chose well.
Assessing local crime
Those reports show about 16 percent of the city’s vandalism, battery, robbery, assault, murder, rape and other major crimes occur west of the Snake River.
To be clear, Idaho Falls, and eastern Idaho in general, have relatively low rates of violent crimes.
Many national publications and websites have rated Idaho Falls among the best places to live in the U.S., thanks in part to the city’s low crime rate.
For comparison, consider Yakima County in central Washington state.
Bonneville vs. Yakima
Both Bonneville and Yakima counties are rural in nature with agriculture a primary economic driver.
Yakima County covers 4,312 square miles and has a population of 247,000. It is a little more than twice the size of Bonneville County, in both land mass and population. But in 2013, Yakima County had 27 homicides compared to two in Bonneville County.
In 2012, there were no homicides in Bonneville County, while Yakima County had 14.
According to information from Grow Idaho Falls, which promotes the development and growth of Idaho Falls, Ammon and Bonneville County, Idaho Falls scores low for total crime risk in comparison to the national average.
Idaho Falls’ risk score is 68, with the country’s total average crime risk at 100. A score of 200 indicates twice the national average total risk, while 50 indicates half the national risk, the Grow Idaho Falls website said. The city scores lower than average in nearly all of U.S. crime risk categories.
Some areas are safer
Even so, some parts of the city are safer than others.
Idaho Falls Police Chief Mark McBride said officers are assigned to three “beats” within the city: west of Yellowstone Avenue; east of Yellowstone and north of Broadway; and east of Yellowstone Avenue and south of Broadway.
Officers who work the west side beat see about one-third of the city’s crime. However, the bulk of the west side crimes occur east of the river between Broadway and East Anderson Street.
“There’s definitely fewer crimes committed on the west side of town,” McBride said. “But that doesn’t mean crimes don’t occur over there.”
Officers who work the northeastern beat see about 26 percent of the city’s crime, while officers who work the southeastern beat see about 34 percent of the city’s crime.
Crime data from police and the Bonneville County Sheriff’s office shows a high percentage of the city’s crimes occur within a two-mile radius of the corner of Seventh Street and Boulevard.
Know the neighbors
Julie Nef, who has lived on the 1700 block of Brentwood Drive with her husband and children for 12 years, believes stability is one of the reasons her neighborhood is safe.
“The people here are more established,” Nef said. “Our family knows all of the neighbors. Everyone looks out for each other and we have each other’s backs.”
Police spokeswoman Joelyn Hansen said low crime rates on the west side of town correlate to the high percentage of owner-occupied homes.
“When there are a lot of renters in an area, people tend to not know their neighbors,” Hansen said. “When you don’t know who lives there, you don’t know who’s not supposed to be there.”
Hartman has met most of her neighbors since her family moved from Washington in March.
“Everyone is really nice and welcoming here,” Hartman said.
Three weeks ago, Millie Miller moved into a house on the 1100 block of Idaho Avenue with her three children.
Miller’s home is located in what commonly is referred to as the “letter streets,” which experiences more property crime, on average, than other Idaho Falls neighborhoods. Although she feels safe in her new neighborhood, Miller hasn’t met very many of her neighbors.
“I know my next-door neighbors, but that’s about it,” she said.
Issues on east side
Another possible reason why there’s less crime west of the river is the difference in population between west and east sides, McBride said.
“It’s not that the type of people are different, it’s just that there are more people (east of the river),” McBride said.
Additionally, McBride said police see more crime in some of the city’s older neighborhoods as opposed to newer, developing neighborhoods.
“The environmental design of the older neighborhoods is more inviting to crime,” he said. “There are more houses, more trees and less light. People think it’s easier to get away with stuff.”
Miller said she worries about the safety of her children.
“People drive at ridiculous speeds down this street,” Miller said. “Sometimes people can get into trouble at night.”
Overall, a safe city
Police keep tabs on crime rates in other cities the size of Idaho Falls.
“Overall, we are a safer community than other cities of more than 50,000 people,” McBride said. “But we still need to educate the community as to what they need to do to stay safe. If we all work together as neighbors, we can build a more secure community.”
Ways to improve neighborhood safety, Hansen said, include adding more exterior lights around the house, joining or establishing a neighborhood watch group, cleaning alleys, keeping bushes and shrubbery trimmed, removing low-hanging tree limbs and, perhaps most importantly, getting to know your neighbors.