Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Statewide crime mostly down, still higher than 2019

Staff Writer | July 10, 2024 3:05 AM

LACEY — While crime in most categories declined in Washington between 2022 and 2023, crime rates are still higher than they were in 2019. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs released crime data for 2023 Tuesday.

Steve Strachan, WASPC executive director, said the organization has been issuing the report since 1980 with the goal of giving the public information about crime and crime trends, good and bad. 

“People want to know what’s going on out there,” Strachan said. “The big picture — where are we? What are the trends out there now?”

He wanted people to remember, he said, that all the statistics represent crime victims. He cited burglary as an example — in his law enforcement career he talked to burglary victims who never felt safe in their homes again.

“Just one example of all those numbers and all these graphs,” he said. 

The data is as reported as of March 23. More information becomes available throughout the year, he said, and as it comes in the report is updated to reflect that. 

The good news is that overall violent crime decreased by about 5.5% between 2022 and 2023, and property crime also dropped in the same time period by about 11.9%. 

But vehicle theft increased, and it’s up dramatically since 2019, the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 2019 and 2023 vehicle theft increased by 112%.

“This is the one that is not going down,” he said. 

More Washington car owners are using anti-theft devices and updating computer programs that make their cars more vulnerable. Most cars that are stolen in the state are older models, he said, and many of the victims are people who can least afford to replace them. 

More juveniles were involved in crime — 7,730 arrests of juveniles were made in 2023. Of those, 51.6% were between 13 and 15 years of age. 

There were 28,315 violent crimes reported in Washington in 2023, the second-highest number on record behind 2022. But that doesn’t take into account increases in the state’s population, Strachan said. 

Violent crime is a specific classification in FBI statistics, Strachan said. Murder and manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault are identified as violent crimes. A crime is defined as an aggravated assault when a dangerous weapon is used or the victim suffers serious injury. 

In 2022, the state had 399 murders, the highest recorded. The number dropped — but not by much — in 2023, to 382. That too is in part a reflection of more people living in Washington, he said.

When measured per capita, the violent crime rate is neither at historic highs nor historic lows. For 2023 the rate was 3.56 offenses per 1,000 Washington residents, well above the lowest rate in 2015 (2.66 crimes per 1,000 residents) but well below the highest rate in 1992 (5.39 crimes per 1,000 residents). 

The murder rate was .5 per 1,000 residents. That’s the same as 2022, and close to the highest rate recorded since 1980, which was .6 per 1,000 residents in 1988 and 1994. 

The report also tracks hate crimes, up 6% between 2022 and 2023, with 576 reported in 2023 compared to 544 in 2022. A hate crime is defined as a crime motivated in whole or part by the perpetrator’s bias against a characteristic of the victim, including race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender or ethnicity. 

The most frequent types of hate crimes are intimidation or property destruction, Strachan said. But hate crimes that involved aggravated assaults increased by 11% from 71 in 2022 to 79 in 2023. 

Washington had 10,760 law enforcement officers in 2023, including Washington State Patrol troopers, college police departments and others. On a per-capita basis that works out to 1.35 officers — which is, Strachan said, the lowest in the nation. 

“This is the 13th straight year of being last in the nation in staffing,” he said. 

It’s not a perfect measure, but is the best approximate state-to-state comparison available, he said. The national per-capita average is 2.31 officers, he said — and Washington agencies would have to hire 8,000 more law enforcement officers to get close to the national average.

Strachan said there is bipartisan support in the Washington Legislature for changes that should make it easier to fight crime, something his organization will be advocating for in the next session.

“This is a good time for our state to come together. And I’m starting to see that,” he said. 

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com

Editor’s Note: This story is an overview of the Washington statistics. Also included in the report are statistics by county and agency. Additional coverage will be published once the Columbia Basin Herald has had an opportunity to review the report and contact local law enforcement agencies. 

    Steve Strachan