Kent’s plan to hire more officers fails; what’s next for public safety amid wave of crime

KENT, Wash. — The Kent Mayor and police chief say they know there’s a crime problem in South King County.

“What I’m hearing from the community over and over again is they’re worried about the out-of-control crime, the lawlessness,” said Chief Rafael Padilla with Kent PD.

An effort from Kent this year to bump up the sales tax to hire more officers didn’t make it out of the state legislature. The .3 percent, or 3 cents per 10 dollars spent tax hike, would have raised $10 million for Kent – to be used in part to hire up to 35 more officers.

Now city leaders are telling residents to hang on as they look for another solution.

“It really bothers me. It shouldn’t be this intense and this frequent,” Padilla said.

Just in February, major crimes from the Kent have dominated news headlines. A deadly shooting on a Kent metro bus, a teen killed in a violent shootout between two cars, a carjacking leading to a highly publicized high-speed chase, a trooper shot during a DUI stop, and a home invasion where a homeowner was shot are just a few of the cases KIRO7 covered.

Some Kent residents at a Safeway KIRO7 spoke with say they just don’t feel safe.

“No. I don’t even like to come outside. I just go straight to work,” said one resident who declined to share his name.

Another woman said she was recently carjacked at gunpoint and was still too scared to speak on camera.

Paulo Tridapali said he’s been a victim of crime too - his car was stolen last fall from his apartment complex.

“We called 911 and they told us to go in the computer and fill out the form,” Tridapali said.

Kent’s Mayor says she knows residents are worried.

“It’s probably the number one concern I hear from our residents –public safety and everything it encompasses,” Ralph said.

Kent says one problem – is its number of officers.

The city has hired as many officers as its budget allows - 167. But Padilla says that means it has one of the lowest officers per capita in the state and the country.

Kent has a ratio of 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents. That’s lower than the average in Washington State of 1.36 officers. And it’s almost half the national average of 2.31 officers per capita.

“Sometimes somebody gets robbed and it’s a two-hour wait. And we aren’t going to be able to prevent that from happening all the time,” Padilla said.

That’s why Kent wanted to raise the sales tax by .3 percent, or three cents for every $10 spent. The tax would’ve raised about $10 million for Kent and would have been used for public safety, and fund hiring 30 to 35 more officers, as well as money for community court and social services.

It’s a change that had to go through lawmakers, to give city councils (statewide, not just Kent) the power for the .3 percent tax hike without first getting voter approval.

The effort didn’t get any traction in Olympia with lawmakers and never made it to the House floor.

“It’s very, very frustrating,” Ralph said.

“We know if we walked up to anybody in our city and said hey, are you willing to spend three pennies out of every $10 you spend to have more police officers? It is overwhelmingly yes,” Padilla said.

Several Kent residents KIRO7 spoke with agreed that they would support the tax hike for more officers.

“Definitely. You need the police,” one resident said. “I live in Kent and I don’t ever see the police.”

“I agree. We need it. We need it,” Tridapali said. “They need to hire more people for safety,” he said.

The mayor and police chief say they will try again next year. Mayor Ralph said she is already working with other mayors in South King County to lobby lawmakers for the change in 2025.

But for now, they’re asking residents to hang on and keep reporting crimes. And Padilla said he’s working to use his existing resources as effectively as possible.

“We’re still here. The men and women are going to go out and do the job,” Padilla said.

“We’re not going to give up. Our community deserves better than this and they need to know we’re fighting for them,” Ralph said.