Keeping track of crime in Clark County

Numbers show where various types of offenses are concentrated

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith



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Do you feel safe on your home turf? The 2012 year-end crimes rates show where crime is concentrated in Clark County, and what kind of crimes these neighborhoods attract. But statistics and figures aren’t always what they appear to be.

By reviewing crime rates for the 95 or so neighborhoods in the county, you’ll learn the safest is the North Fork Lewis River, an area at the edge of the county lines near Woodland, tucked away from any major metro area. The neighboring East Fork Hills Rural neighborhood is the second safest. No surprise there.

For something closer to civilization (and a Target), the Village at Fisher’s Landing boasts the third-safest neighborhood, an area bordered by Highway 14 and Southeast 164th Avenue with a population of less than 700. This neighborhood saw a 45 percent decrease in crime from 2011 to 2012, with just 12 crimes reported last year.

“It’s really a close-knit little neighborhood,” said resident Bob Dehler, Village at Fisher’s Landing Neighborhood Association president.

He’s lived in the area for 13 years and suspects criminals are discouraged by the many residents who frequently walk or run in the 10-block neighborhood. People aren’t afraid to be out in the neighborhood at dark, but they’re also never hesitant to report suspicious activity to the police. It helps that a few retired sheriff’s deputies live in the neighborhood and that there’s no commercial district.

The layout of the neighborhood also makes for a difficult getaway. There’s only two ways to get in and out of the neighborhood, so a criminal could find themselves stuck.

“Other than that … we’re lucky,” Dehler said.

At the other end of the spectrum is Esther Short in the middle of downtown Vancouver. Crime analysts say this commercial district has a high daytime population, which skews the crime rate per 1,000 residents. You’ll find similarly inflated crime rates in other high-traffic areas with businesses and schools. Even though crime increased 13 percent from 2011 to 2012 in Esther Short, the downtown neighborhood doesn’t have the highest number of any category of crime.

Travel north to Northeast Hazel Dell and you’ll find the most crimes, with 111 vehicle prowls, 129 auto thefts, 166 burglaries, 79 drug-related crimes and 513 thefts reported in 2012. A look at the annual year-end data shows this area has a supercharged total of widespread crime.

One reason for the ranking is the sheer number of people who live there. An estimated 16,781 people reside in Northeast Hazel Dell, the second most populated neighborhood after Sunnyside, which is bordered by Interstate 205, Northeast 119th Street, Highway 503 and Padden Parkway.

Northeast Hazel Dell resident Doug Ballou, said he’s not surprised by the ranking; the neighborhood posts a high crime rate year after year.

“We probably have one of the largest commercial districts in Clark County aside from the mall area,” he said. In both areas, theft is the most reported crime.

Highway 99 runs through the west part of the neighborhood. It’s home to Walmart, Callaham’s Mobile Estates, Fred Meyer and WinCo, which all make the top 10 list of “hot spots” for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, based on the number of calls for police service.

What do these places have in common? High concentrations of people and cars. Criminals looking to smash car windows and steal items from inside — or steal the car, itself — target packed parking lots. Assaults and thefts occur inside businesses. “Professional” criminals steal a shopping list of items to either resell or to return later for money.

Neighbors say foreclosed homes and empty commercial buildings contribute to Northeast Hazel Dell’s crime rate. In February 2009, 13-year-old Alycia Nipp was murdered in an overgrown field behind the Goodwill Industries store on Northeast 78th Street by homeless sex offender Darrin E. Sanford. Abandoned homes in the area had become a gathering spot for transients.

Firefighters burned several of the homes the next month, after the Clark County fire marshal said the buildings were a hazard and attracted crime. Bud Van Cleve, Northeast Hazel Dell Neighborhood Association president, tried to get the county to raze the buildings long before Nipp’s death.

The neighborhood association, while met with budget constraints and long waits for requested services, is doing exactly what it should be doing, said Deputy Fred Neiman Jr., who patrols the neighborhood.

Neighbors try to deter crime by watching out for each other and reporting suspicious activity, Neiman said. Annual activities and fundraisers help the neighborhood work cohesively as a crime-fighting team.

“That’s exactly how we catch — neighbors watching out for each other,” Neiman said. “The citizens are our eyes and ears.”

Despite the high numbers, crime actually dipped 6 percent from 2011 to 2012. Vigilant neighbors, targeted patrols and a crackdown on local crime hot spots have encouraged Northeast Hazel Dell residents to keep fighting the good fight — for their homes.