Burglaries dropping in Tacoma

Burglaries in Tacoma have dropped significantly this year, surprising even police who made it a priority.

The Burglary Reduction Initiative was launched in January in conjunction with the city’s strategic plan to become one of the safest cities in Washington.

Officials aimed to reduce burglaries by 7.5 percent in 2015 and 2016 by using predictive policing, focusing on repeat offenders, submitting DNA and educating the public on how to avoid becoming a victim.

“We’ve exceeded the two-year goal in the first year by a wide margin,” Assistant Chief Pete Cribbin said.

Residential burglaries are down 22 percent through September and commercial burglaries are down 8 percent, according to department statistics that will be reported to the FBI.

The initiative will continue through at least next year and eventually could incorporate other property crimes, such as vehicle prowls.

Burglaries have historically been high in Tacoma. The city ranks third in the state behind Seattle and Spokane.

Tacoma has the highest number of property crimes per 1,000 residents in the state with 106. Seattle is second with 74.

Police commanders estimate roughly 2,600 burglaries are reported each year. There were 2,957 in 2014.

A downward trend started late in the year, thanks in part to a “predictive policing” program that tells patrol officers when and where particular crimes are likely to happen on their beat.

Then police realized 38 percent of burglaries were happening because people left their doors and windows unlocked or open.

Officers created a pamphlet with tips to avoid being targeted and had community officers distribute them at neighborhood meetings.

Officials also found grant money that allowed them to submit evidence from 14 cases for DNA testing, which typically is saved for violent crimes because it’s so expensive.

Of the 14 burglary cases submitted, 11 yielded a match to an offender already in a state database.

A big impact on reducing burglaries is coming from a focus on repeat offenders, Cribbin said.

The department’s four burglary detectives are giving priority to career criminals rather than assigning investigators to offenders not as likely to burglarize again.

“It’s working smarter,” Cribbin said. “It’s chipping the high-rate offenders out of the system so you bend that number (of burglaries) down.”

One of the first big arrests through the initiative was of Quincy Douglas, a 26-year-old who police said was head of a burglary and vehicle prowl ring in the North End.

He was caught outside an apartment complex on North Tacoma Avenue in February with a backpack full of personal documents stolen from tenants.

Douglas was carrying mail and rent checks, keys to all the building’s locks taken in a previous burglary and a Pierce County laptop stolen from an employee’s car, according to court documents.

Victims wrote the court with accounts of feeling unsafe knowing a stranger had broken into their homes.

“I also felt an incredible sense of violation that someone would intrude upon my life in that way,” one said in a victim impact statement.

Quincy pleaded guilty this month to 29 counts of second-degree identity theft, second-degree burglary, second-degree theft, possessing stolen mail, criminal impersonation, unlawful possession of a controlled substance and possessing stolen mail.

He has not yet been sentenced.

The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office is part of the Burglary Reduction Initiative, helping to ensure detectives collect the necessary evidence so prosecutors bring charges in a timely fashion.

There is a three-year statute of limitations for burglary and several cases being submitted are right under that timeline.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Scott Peters, who heads the burglary division, attends weekly meetings with police to discuss investigations so he doesn’t have to send officers back for further investigation once cases have been submitted to his office.

He also is making sure repeat offenders don’t plead out to light sentences. Repeat residential burglars typically face a range of five years and two months to seven years in prison.

“They can plea but we’re not giving them reductions,” Peters said. “We’re trying to hold them as accountable as we can.”

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653