Tacoma crime story not as dire as you might think

A Tacoma police photographer gathers evidence in the 3900 block of North Stevens Street at spot where a burglar who had been shot blocks away finally was stopped and given medical aid.
A Tacoma police photographer gathers evidence in the 3900 block of North Stevens Street at spot where a burglar who had been shot blocks away finally was stopped and given medical aid. News Tribune file photo, 2011

Crime is down in Tacoma.

In the last decade, per-capita violent crime has gone down 9 percent, burglaries are down 14 percent and auto theft is down 26 percent.

While our population has trended up, crime has trended down. We recently read some scary headlines about crime in Tacoma (“When it comes to crime, we’re No. 1 statewide,” TNT, 10/22), but headlines can be deceiving and may give the wrong impression.

We acknowledge that we should always strive to prevent and reduce crime, but here are some facts to consider:

When it comes to violent crime, a person is more likely to be victimized by someone they know.

Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, people ages 25 and younger are more likely to be victims of violent crime. The older you are, the less likely you are to be victimized.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation releases annual numbers that compare crime rates in various cities. While it is useful to compare Tacoma numbers past and present, it is not useful to compare Tacoma with Seattle or Yakima. Why not?

Because not everyone plays by the same rules. Different cities report crime differently and define crimes differently. They also have have different populations.

Some cities, including Tacoma, encourage the reporting of domestic violence, while other cities do not. Some cities treat elder abuse crime as a civil matter, others as a criminal matter.

In Tacoma, our Police Department encourages citizens to report domestic violence and elder abuse, both of which are underreported in some other jurisdictions. We are leaders in prosecuting and preventing DV and elder abuse.

This is due, in part, to public awareness campaigns that temporarily drove up numbers in those categories. This uptick was not due to more crime, but to more reporting. That means more accountability, which means less crime in the long run.

And that’s what we should focus on: long-term trends. Gang violence in Pierce County is down almost 60 percent the last few years and much of the decline is in Tacoma.

Reputation, however, often lags reality. Both of us often have lunch on Hilltop and sometimes must explain to friends that it’s now a perfectly safe neighborhood.

Though crime is decreasing, there’s still work to do. The Tacoma Police Department is in the process of recruiting and hiring more officers. TPD has been cutting edge in their use of DNA, data and other modern tools. It is a major partner in the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office High Priority Offender program, a new data-driven approach to fighting crime by focusing on career criminals.

Tacoma has also led in addressing some of the root causes of crime with our Gang Prevention Project, investment in mental health services and youth programs, and making education a civic priority. Project Peace is building on and improving our community policing efforts and relationships.

What matters are not short-term problems, but long-term progress. Tacoma had a tough reputation for many years — “the most stressed city,” “keep Tacoma feared” and so on.

That’s a reputation from the past, not today’s reality. More people are visiting, moving here and choosing to stay for our quality of life. Seattle-based restaurants are opening in Tacoma. Nearly one billion dollars of private investment in housing, office and retail are planned for Tacoma.

Look beyond headlines and bumper stickers. Singer Neko Case called Tacoma “a dusty old jewel in the South Puget Sound.”

Our past may be dusty, but our future shines.

Marilyn Strickland is the mayor of Tacoma, completing her second and final term. Mark Lindquist is the Pierce County prosecutor, also in his second term.