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Sept. 21, 2021

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Homicides at record high in Washington in 2020, report shows, reflecting national trend

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TACOMA — Homicides in Washington went up 47 percent last year, setting a record for the state, according to an annual crime report released by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

There were 302 homicides in 2020, up from 206 the year before. That beat the previous high of 297 in 1994.

The 593-page report collects data from 211 cities, counties and tribes across the state, which WASPC has been doing since 1980. The data is then forwarded to the FBI.

Steven Strachan, WASPC’s executive director, said his organization “does not analyze or comment on the meaning of the data.”

The statewide spike in homicides follows the national trend, though it’s nearly double the national rate.

There was a 25 percent jump in homicides in the United States in 2020, according to preliminary data released by the FBI. That’s the largest increase in homicides since crime data started being collected in 1960.

Experts say there is no easy answer for the spike in homicides, despite several theories that include: an increase in the number of guns purchased across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic and a breakdown in the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.

“2020 was just a crazy complicated year where lots of things happened, and there are lots of potential explanations for why we saw these big changes,” David Abrams, a University of Pennsylvania Law School professor who tracks crime rates, told the Associated Press. The bottom line? “It’s complicated.”

Out of the 302 homicides in Washington, investigators made 198 arrests and cleared 54 percent of the cases, according to the annual crime report.

The highest clearance rates for crimes against people were for violating no-contact orders (58.5 percent), kidnapping (57 percent) and manslaughter (56 percent).

Law enforcement officers had better luck solving property crimes like bribery (76.5 percent) and finding stolen property (66 percent). The best clearance rates were for drug equipment violations (83 percent) and drug violations (73 percent), which includes the unlawful manufacturing, sale, purchase, possession, or transportation of equipment for preparing or using narcotics.

The lowest clearance rate was for fraud at 2.7 percent, which is noteworthy since fraud saw the biggest spike statewide at 131 percent. Officials say there were 59,134 fraud cases last year, most of which were due to fraudulent unemployment claims. Officers made 1,006 arrests.

“We’re still living through a very safe era in U.S. history,” Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at Princeton University, told Vox. “When you start from a low base, a percentage increase can be a little bit misleading. … But there was a huge surge in violence — without a doubt.”

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