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News / Clark County News

Report: Crime up in Clark County and Washington

Annual report shows 8.5% increase last year statewide

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: July 10, 2023, 6:39pm

Crime rose in Clark County and Washington last year, bucking what appears to be a downward trend nationally, according to a statewide report released Monday.

The 583-page annual Crime in Washington Report, produced by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, shows an 8.5 percent increase in overall crime in Washington last year, compared with 2021. That follows a 3.7 percent increase in the group’s 2021 crime report compared with 2020.

Violent crime also climbed by 8.9 percent last year after increasing by 10 percent in 2021, the report shows. The number of murders, 394 in 2022, outpaced 2021’s record-high number of 325.

“In 2022, there’s data out there showing that those trends were beginning to trend downward nationally,” agency Executive Director Steve Strachan said Monday, referencing a report from the nonprofit thinktank Council on Criminal Justice. “We are seeing the opposite in our state, and I think that’s the critical question that our policymakers need to confront, and all of us need to confront in every community is how do we — we need to change that.

“I sense sometimes that people feel like, ‘Well, there’s nothing we can do. It’s a national trend. It’s like this everywhere,’” Strachan said. “Well, the data is not reflecting that right now.”

The increasing number of crimes also came alongside statewide population growth of 93,262 people, which Strachan noted is almost equivalent to the population of the city of Kirkland. That means 2022’s murder rate of 0.05 per 1,000 Washington residents did not outpace the peak rates in 1994 or the late 1980s.

Strachan noted the high murder rate in 1994, which he attributed to a surge in gang violence, also came with higher police staffing than the state saw last year, providing more resources to investigate those killings.

“The officers per (1,000 residents) is now much lower than it was in 1994,” Strachan said. “So if we’re comparing those two periods of time, remember that the number of options available was significantly higher in 1994, with a rate of 1.62 (officers per 1,000 residents). We would now have, if we kept that rate, 12,719 sworn officers — which is over 2,000 officers more than we have right now in the state of Washington.”

Staffing reached a new statewide record low last year of 1.36 officers per 1,000 residents. Strachan said that made last year the 13th consecutive year when Washington has had the lowest staffing ratio in the nation. The national average is 2.31 officers per 1,000 residents.

The director sounded the alarm last year over 2021’s report showing nearly 500 fewer law enforcement officers than in 2020. On Monday, he said the state lost an additional 70 officers last year across the state.

“We are way outside the norm,” Strachan said. “I mean we are literally at the far end of the curve in terms of the lowest number of staffing in the nation, which I think is clearly part of the solution that I think we all need to start to work toward, to start to change these numbers.”

Clark County added just two commissioned officers last year, yet the county’s population grew an additional 8,000 people, according to the report, bringing the county’s staffing rate to 0.86 per 1,000 residents. The county also had the lowest staffing ratio in the state.

Criminal reports

Last year, local agencies reported 21 cases investigated as murders, two of which were classified as domestic violence murders. The Vancouver Police Department investigated 14 cases as murders, and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office investigated seven. In 2021, agencies across the county investigated 17 cases as murders, the report shows.

Most Clark County law enforcement agencies experienced an increase in criminal reports last year compared with 2021. The sheriff’s office took 17.7 percent more crime reports in 2022 than in 2021; La Center police filed 15.8 percent more; Vancouver police filed 13.2 percent more and Washougal police filed 11.5 percent more, according to the report.

Across the county, 3,691 vehicles were reported stolen in 2022, compared with 2,931 in 2021, agency data shows. The 25 percent increase locally is less than a 34 percent statewide increase in auto thefts, according to the report.

“I think this (data) reflects what people are experiencing,” Strachan said. “There’s more concern about crime, and people are concerned because this is starting to affect people in a very real way in their real lives.”

Hate crimes decreased statewide by 8.1 percent last year. There were 544 reported incidents of hate crimes statewide compared with 592 in 2021. The majority of hate crimes were intimidation, assault or destruction of property, according to the data.

Specific comparable data for Clark County was not included in the report.

Strachan said the report motivates him to continue working with stakeholders so the data represented in the report does not become “the new normal.”

“We need balanced solutions that provide those tools and staffing to provide justice for victims. We need support for that adequate staffing for safer and more supportive responses from law enforcement. (We need to) recognize that increasing violent crime disproportionately impacts persons of color, who are victims,” Strachan said. “And the fact is these problems have solutions. It requires leadership and resources and consequences to criminal behavior.”

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