Crime’s down in Pierce County? Believe it or not, stats show improvement in some areas

Pierce County has seen a drop in burglaries and other property crimes in recent years, according to statistics from the county’s largest law enforcement agencies.

“Vehicle thefts are down substantially,” Tacoma police Chief Don Ramsdell told The News Tribune when asked about the numbers earlier this year. “Burglaries, especially residential burglaries, are down.”

Tacoma reported 1,955 burglaries in 2018 (9.3 per 1,000 people), compared to 2,093 in 2017 (10.1 per 1,000 people), according to annual statistics released this year by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

There were 15.7 burglaries per 1,000 people in 2013, according to WASPC numbers for that year.

Vehicle thefts dropped from 2,195 in 2017 (10.5 per 1,000 people) to 2,005 in 2018 (9.6 per 1,000 people).

Ramsdell doesn’t think there was one factor that explained the drop but praised his agency’s focus on community policing.

Ramsdell said he also thinks a regional auto-theft task force and a program at the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office to focus resources on frequent offenders help explain the decrease.

“What I would say is that there’s been a lot of great efforts over the years to address crime and crime related issues,” Ramsdell told The News Tribune. “A big part of that is our department, working closely with our community, building good relationships and coming up with strategies together to address these issues.”

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department reported 2,258 burglaries in 2017 (5.6 per 1,000 people), and 1,929 in 2018 (4.7 per 1,000 people), according to the WASPC report.

Residential burglaries are 32 percent below normal so far in 2019, compared to the same period the previous five years, according to recent figures from the Sheriff’s Department. Vehicle theft was down 12 percent.

”Property crime — and particularly residential burglary and auto theft have shown sizable decreases,” Sheriff Paul Pastor said in a statement. “I attribute a substantial part of this decrease to the fact that we formulated a plan to deal with high rate offenders — the most active thieves and burglars — and the County Council wisely provided resources to staff our plan to arrest these high rate criminals.”

Pastor said he’s concerned about an increase in serious assaults and drug possession, manufacturing and sales. Specifically heroin, he said.

The department’s recent figures show aggravated assaults are 12 percent above normal compared to the previous five years and that heroin possession is 29 percent above normal. The manufacturing and sale of heroin is 15 percent above normal.

“Overall the property crime stats are pointing in the right direction, and bolstering staffing has allowed this to happen,” Pastor’s statement said. “Now we need to turn to the uptick we are seeing in violence. We will be requesting funding for crime analysis and staffing strategies to keep property crime low and reduce instances of criminal violence.”

Murders in the area increased from 2017 to 2018.

The Sheriff’s Department reported 16 murders in 2018 (0.04 per 1,000 people). In 2017 they had 7 (0.02 per 1,000 people).

Historical reports show that’s still fewer than periods of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

The Sheriff’s Department saw 27 murders in 1994 (0.07 per 1,000 people).

Tacoma had 33 that year (0.17 per 1,000 people).

In 2018, Tacoma reported 17 homicides (0.08 per 1,000 people), up from 9 in 2017 (0.04 per 1,000 people).

“A lot of these homicides are not just random incidents,” Ramsdell said. “They typically are individuals that are known to the subject in one way or the other.”

More than 20 people have been killed in Tacoma so far this year, which is the highest homicide rate since 2006.

Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.