The co-owners of Shanahan’s Pub and Grill, Frederick Kurz and David Cookson, hadn’t had to deal with a burglary in almost 12 years. That changed earlier this month.
Just before midnight on May 7, a man broke in by crawling under a gate leading to the restaurant’s storage room. He didn’t take much of value, they said, just some dish towel bags that he used to load up on recyclables from a nearby bin.
But he broke their streak. And it followed another suspicious incident back in March, when Cookson and Kurz reviewed security footage and saw someone looking into The Infirmary, their high-end whiskey joint that shares patio space with the more casual pub.
The owners decided to cover all of The Infirmary’s glass with packing paper, an attempt to ward off burglars tempted by a view of the interior.
“I’m an over-thinker, so I try to prepare for the worst,” Cookson said.
Businesses like Shanahan’s closed for dine-in service on March 16, the start of the stay-at-home order meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In the months since, the Vancouver Police Department has reported a significant uptick in property crimes. Burglaries are up 55.6 percent, compared with the same time period last year. Auto theft is up 41.7 percent, vehicle prowling is up 35 percent and vandalism is up 24.4 percent.
With the exception of simple assault — up 14 percent, mostly due to domestic violence — the spike applies to nonviolent crimes. Rape and robbery reports are both down.
“A lot of these crimes are ‘smash and grabs,'” said Vancouver City Councilor Bart Hansen, who shared the Vancouver Police Department statistics on his Twitter page. “Basically, crimes of opportunity. Sometimes the only thing separating a criminal from your valuables is an eighth of an inch of glass.”
Hansen added that it’s crucial for people to report these crimes as they happen.
“Those reports help to determine where officers are deployed,” Hansen said.
Court and law enforcement officials shared their insights on why some crime categories have increased, but they emphasized that many factors influence the changes, and crimes tend to ebb and flow regularly.
Still, a collective 24.5 percent increase in reported crimes is significant, Major Crimes Unit Sgt. Jeff Kipp said.
“It’s a lot of property crime,” Kipp said. “This is speculation, but all of the sudden, there are a ton of people with too much time on their hands. Enterprising adult criminals who know no one is going to be around construction sites or businesses, or juveniles who would otherwise be in school, maybe … It’s extra time and boredom — a perfect storm of opportunity.”
The sergeant said the increase in burglaries possibly could be attributed to a small number of thieves taking advantage of current circumstances. The increase in burglaries from residential and apartment complex garages show a clear pattern; it may be several people breaking into 15 different locations, he said.
In emails to The Columbian and on social media posts, Clark County residents have asserted that the increases in crime categories are the result of the Clark County Jail releasing inmates.
Administrators decided to reduce the jail’s population in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Criminal justice officials set criteria for the types of crimes and cases that should be assessed for potential release into pretrial supervision; they include nonviolent offenders accused of drug and property crimes.
Of 147 inmates who were released early, 16 have been rearrested, according to Clark County Sheriff’s Office data.
Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik said of those 16 rearrested people, nine remain in jail. Two people were released by the court. Two pleaded guilty and served their time. Two posted bail. Lastly, one person was exonerated, according to Golik.
The state Department of Corrections released 65 prison inmates serving time for offenses in Clark County, but it’s unknown whether any have been rearrested. Those inmates may not all return to the county, as their release plans could include living elsewhere, Golik said.
The early releases “are a legitimate concern, and obviously, I think everyone in the criminal justice system is concerned about it. The period of data we’re looking at is short, and it’s difficult to draw any kind of straight-line conclusions. There are a multitude of factors contributing to the increases. It’s possible but not likely that these 16 people are causing the larger percentage increases,” Golik said.
For the people who have been rearrested, prosecutors are asking the court that they remain jailed. The court still has to set bail, but the attorneys are requesting higher amounts, which they’ve successfully been able to do in all cases, Golik said.
While rates for most violent crimes are stable or declining, reports of domestic violence continue to climb, according to police department data. Golik said those defendants are not being released early.
Simple assaults related to domestic violence have increased by 43 percent when compared with 2019, according to the data. As of April 25, domestic violence simple assaults were about 73 percent of all reported simple assaults. For years 2018 and 2019, the range was 56 to 58 percent of all reported simple assaults, the police department said.
The increase is directly related to the “shutdown of society,” Kipp said. Added stresses like lost jobs and cramped living spaces mean people who aren’t typically prone to domestic disturbances are adding to the numbers, he said.
Despite the increases in certain crime categories, there are 24 percent fewer officer-initiated calls for service. Kipp said police are curtailing stopping people for things they ordinarily would have in the past, such as minor traffic infractions.
“I’m not saying we’re failing to check things out. But the uncertainties we’re facing, it’s a different world we’re living in. There’s got to be a transition in the minds of our officers, as far as how they can continue to do their jobs and be safe from this added risk (of the virus). The important thing to me is the priority work is being done,” Kipp said.