Crime numbers were up in Kent in 2020, part of a trend in other South King County cities, Seattle and across the state and nation.
“Unfortunately, crime in general and violent crime in particular is significantly higher than previous years,” said Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla in a July 12 email in response to the 2020 crime report released last week by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs that showed higher numbers in the city. “This is particularly disappointing since we were experiencing a two-year decline (2018 and 2019) of shootings and homicides.”
Murders were up to nine in 2020 in Kent from three in 2019, a 200% jump, according to the report. Aggravated assaults increased to 216 from 157, a 37.6% hike.
”We took a significant turn in 2020,” Padilla said. “I have seen information being distributed through national news sources that indicate that the upward trend in violent crimes has been occurring over the past few years. That is not the case for Kent. Our increase in violent crime clearly starts in 2020.”
The number are up in many cities. The Washington crime report shows that in 2020 murders in the state were up almost 47% (302 vs 206) and have increased 67% overall since 2016.
“The significant increase in crime is occurring across the nation,” Padilla said. “Our trends are similar with those in Seattle and other South King County cities.”
Padilla, who gave a public safety report to the City Council in November about the increase in violent crimes and other crimes, said COVID-19 certainly played a role in the higher numbers.
“Without question, the pandemic is a significant contributing factor to the spike in crime,” Padilla said. “Major portions of the criminal justice system in the state and here in King County were inoperable. The state Department of Corrections released 1,200 prisoners, King County jails released several hundred inmates, and all jails went to mandatory bookings, trying to keep inmate populations to a minimum.
“This meant that even when suspects were caught and arrested, many were not booked into jail. This includes many prolific criminals with significant arrest records.”
Padilla said the courts had to shut down completely for a time and thousands of criminal cases went on hold.
“For the overwhelming majority of cases, those facing charges have not been held in jail,” he said. “They remain at large free to continue to victimize our communities. All of these things were contributing factors to the rise in crime. Amongst the many things we in government must learn from the pandemic, the impacts of not being able to hold criminals accountable is an important one.”
Burglaries in Kent were up to 1,106 from 769 in 2020, a 43.8% jump from 2019. Motor vehicle thefts increased to 1,151 from 967, a 19% hike.
A few numbers were down. Simple assaults fell to 1,361 from 1,540, an 11.6% drop. Robberies were down to 187 from 246, a 24% decrease.
Fraud offenses, however, spiked to 1,117 from 547, an 104% jump. Fraud can include unlawful uses of credit or debit cards; the use of deceptive schemes or devices to obtain money, goods or other things of value; computer hacking; identity theft; and welfare fraud.
Padilla said a low number of police officers per capita in the state also can lead to more crime.
“It does not help that we are seeing a growing exodus of police officers from this state,” he said. “A state that already had the fewest officers per capita in the entire country. We rank dead last, 51st of 50 states and Washington, D.C.”
The total number of commissioned officers statewide was down from 1.24 per 1,000 people in 2019 to 1.19 per 1,000 in 2020, according to the Washington crime report.
To get crime numbers reduced, Padilla would like to have more officers but also wants to see better results from King County officials.
“I am hoping that those responsible for setting policy for the King County criminal justice system will take a hard look at the past year and consider whether the continued movement towards less and less accountability for violent criminals and repeat offenders is having the impact they intend,” Padilla said.
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