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News / Clark County News

Reported crime falls in Vancouver, Clark County, but public perception doesn’t reflect it, police chief says

Violent crime in Washington decreased by 5.5 percent in 2023

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 9, 2024, 4:33pm

Crime decreased in unincorporated Clark County, the county’s cities and across Washington in 2023, according to new data. That’s the first decrease since crime spiked here and nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it doesn’t mean local residents are feeling any safer.

A statewide report released Tuesday by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs shows an overall decrease of 8.5 percent in reported crimes from 2022 to 2023. That drop precisely reverses the previous rise in crime of 8.5 percent from 2021 to 2022. Before that, crime rose each year since before the pandemic: 7.1 percent in 2020 and another 3.7 percent in 2021.

“We are seeing some decreases, some promising numbers, but we are nowhere near prepandemic levels,” Steven Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said during a Tuesday news conference. “We are seeing some small decreases, which is good.”

Overall crime reported in Clark County shrank in 2023, according to the report. Crime in the unincorporated county dropped by 13.3 percent. In Vancouver, overall crime reports dropped 9.4 percent.

Smaller cities saw crime reductions, too. Modest drops were seen in Battle Ground (down 2.6 percent from 2022) and Camas (down 8.2 percent), while larger reductions were seen in Washougal (down 14.4 percent) and La Center (down 26.6 percent). Ridgefield showed no overall change in crime.

Do people feel safer?

But numbers don’t tell the whole story, Vancouver Police Chief Jeff Mori told the Vancouver City Council during a Monday workshop about police staffing needs.

“In reported crime, it looks like we’ve got a pretty significant reduction,” Mori said.

But that reduction is mostly in reported property crimes, not violent crimes, he said. (Violent crime in Washington decreased by 5.5 percent in 2023, according to the report. Murder, manslaughter and some sexual assault offenses were all down last year in the city of Vancouver, the report shows.)

Mori said residents have told him they don’t call 911 as often because they don’t think police will respond. More meaningful to him than statistics is simply asking Vancouver citizens if they feel safer today than they did a year or more ago, he said.

“Generally, what people say is no, they don’t,” Mori said.

Vancouver’s crime rate per 1,000 people remains by far the highest of any city in Clark County: 116.2. The next highest crime rate is Washougal’s at 41.3. The overall state crime rate is 62 per 1,000 people, according to the report.

The massive, 573-page annual report, which includes numbers from hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the state, sets the 8.5 percent decline in overall crime reports against a backdrop of state population growth of nearly 86,000 people in 2023.

Despite that growth, Strachan noted, Washington law enforcement staffing per capita has lagged behind every other state for at least 13 years running. After bottoming out in 2021, he said, law enforcement staffing has started to rebound, with about 11,000 sworn law enforcement officers now. But Washington still remains last in the U.S.

“To get to the national average, we need to hire 8,000 more police officers,” Strachan said.

Crime stats

In many other states, violent crime has fallen sharply — but not in Washington, Strachan said.

The number of murders statewide dropped by 5.8 percent, from 399 in 2022 to 376 in 2023.

That’s a relative drop, but recent murder tallies remain high. Washington set murder records in 2021, with 325, and again in 2022, with 399.

“That was the all-time high number of murders,” Strachan said. “We are still substantially higher than we were prior the pandemic.”

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Overall, murders reported in Clark County shrank from 21 in 2022 to 18 in 2023. In Vancouver, reports of murders dropped by 27.3 percent — from 11 in 2022 to eight in 2023. But in unincorporated Clark County, murders investigated by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office jumped by 42.9 percent — from seven in 2022 to 10 in 2023.

Statewide, domestic violence offenses accounted for 47.9 percent of all crimes against people, with 64,554 incidents reported in 2023. Of those, 14,649 were violations of protection or no-contact orders. There were 5,664 sexual assault reports.

Property crimes decreased by 11.9 percent statewide, the report says. But that’s after several years of theft growing. Retailers say crime reports don’t reflect the reality of widespread retail theft and shoplifting, Strachan said.

Property crimes were largely down across Clark County. Robbery and burglary reports in the unincorporated county and in Vancouver both dropped.

While motor vehicle thefts statewide rose 15 percent, the picture is more complicated in Vancouver and Clark County.

In unincorporated Clark County, the sheriff’s office reported a 28.3 percent drop in motor vehicle thefts. In Vancouver, motor vehicle thefts were down 15.7 percent and, in Washougal, they were down 33.9 percent.

But in Battle Ground, motor vehicle thefts were up 29.5 percent, and in La Center they were up a whopping 400 percent (from two motor vehicle thefts in 2022 to 10 in 2023).

“Motor vehicle theft is not going down” overall, Strachan said. Most cars that get stolen belong to people who can least afford to lose them, he said. “It turns their lives upside down.”