Law enforcement at all time low in WA; violent crime surging

new report from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) says violent crime in Washington State is up by 12.3%.

The report collects data from just about every law enforcement agency statewide.

But communities are grappling with the surge in violence as they’re also dealing with staffing shortages.

Data show that Tacoma and Pierce counties are hit particularly hard, with both homicides and robberies up in 2021, compared to 2020. King County saw a dramatic spike in murder cases (double) but a drop in robberies.

In fact, homicides are at an all time high – 325 people were murdered in Washington State in 2021, about 6% more than the year before. Per capita, the state did see more homicides in both the mid-’80s and ‘90s.

Steve Strachan, the executive director of WASPC, says the uptick in violent crime is happening as the state is dealing with the fewest number of officers per capita in 40 years – which is how long the agency has been tracking the data.

The report says the state lost 495 commissioned officers last year, which is down 4.4% from 2020.

“What we’re seeing at some agencies around the state is the level of frustration – we’ll call it burnout – that’s resulting from the inability to provide justice for victims,” Strachan said.

“When they can’t do that, they leave. And as more officers leave, it turns into a vicious cycle and makes the problems worse,” he said. Strachan referenced the Blake decision, certain police reform laws, and a lack of resources for people who need help as some sources of frustration.

Families are feeling the impact of rising violent crime. Tacoma recently saw a 14-year-old girl shot and killed in the middle of the day.

And a Tacoma family’s 10-year-old girl was shot in her bed while sleeping, when a stray bullet came through the walls of their home.

“We’re trying to think now: should we move or what?” said Amasone Palesoo, her father.

Police say someone fired at least 40 shots in the neighborhood and several bullets went inside this house. Palesoo says their family is traumatized.

“She’s scared to come home,” he said. “She was shot in the leg. She was lucky – it didn’t hit bone or anything,” he said.

WASPC believes that breaking the trend of increasing violence will take more support for law enforcement.

“I would love nothing more than next year when we’re doing this again to say we had a net increase in officers,” Strachan said. “That good policing is supported by everyone,” he added.

In 2022 so far, Pierce County and Tacoma are currently on track to double the number of murders each jurisdiction saw last year.

During an unrelated press conference today, Governor Jay Inslee mentioned said he will be announcing a plan on Thursday to help recruit more officers for Washington.