WASHINGTON last week won a ranking no state wants: It now leads the nation in property-crime rates.
Property crime elsewhere in the country dropped, but new FBI crime statistics show that Washington leapt from third in 2012 to first in 2013 thanks in part to a 6 percent jump in car thefts. The trend demands changes on the ground and in state sentencing policy.
The news probably is not a surprise to Seattle area residents. Property crime rates for the Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma area are more than double rates in and around Boston, nearly one-third higher than the Denver metro area and more than a quarter higher than Portland and its suburbs.
The data underscore aggravating stories about mishandled property crimes, including one by Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat, who got little police help when he tracked a stolen iPhone using a GPS tracker. The Times published a remarkably similar story on Saturday from a 26-year-old woman: iPad theft, GPS tracking, no help from police.
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A new regime at the Seattle Police Department says it has heard the collective aaargghh! Under Chief Kathleen O’Toole’s direction, the department created a position to help officers work through the technological and legal issues of chasing stolen devices via embedded GPS locators. It is also reviewing how nonemergency calls are handled and how it deploys its resources.
Those are all good first steps. Ideally, O’Toole also will bring what has been missing: a departmentwide recognition that “low-level crimes” — from car prowling to downtown disorder — erode a civic feeling of safety.
“People breaking into cars, these aren’t boy scouts, first time out of the box,” said Mike Wagers, O’Toole’s operations chief. “People who are doing it are probably offenders we need to engage with.”
A more vigorous response will likely require more officers. Mayor Ed Murray has pledged to boost the city’s 1,250-some uniformed officers by 100. But only adding officers to a dysfunctional department won’t fix the problem.
As Wager said, “First we need to make sure we have business processes down. We’re not going to blame this on staffing levels.”
The rising property crime rates, in Seattle and elsewhere in Washington, also demand a change in reconsideration of state sentencing laws that are an outlier nationally. The state, for budget and policy reasons, rarely requires supervision for convicted low-level thieves — even though post-detention monitoring is a proven deterrent.
A state task force convened by Gov. Jay Insee is looking into the state’s No. 1 property crime ranking. It should produce a set of recommended sentencing changes. The Legislature, like the Seattle Police, must not shrug off a smash-and-grab crime wave.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).