The recent rise in property crimes throughout the state is harming our communities, and the state Legislature must address it as a top priority in the remaining 2023 session.

This is an Op-Ed I never thought I would write. When I became CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association, I assumed my passion to assist small businesses in chasing their dreams would be focused on issues of workforce development, tourism promotion, hospitality information and finding operational and political solutions that promoted the success of community and our local hotels and restaurants. But the prevalence of our crime problem has rapidly become one of these issues, and its widespread impact to our team members and businesses is prompting us, for the first time ever, to make it a top priority and add our voice to the mix.

We recently conducted an internal survey of our members and found that they have spent $10,082 on average per location in the past year to recover for crime and vandalizations. Guests and employees have been harassed and threatened an average of 258 times per business in the past year. Only 1 in 21.5 incidents in our industry is being reported to the police.

We’ve also talked directly with our members to hear more about their individual experiences, including a business that was robbed 12 times in a span of four months. We’ve heard about the worrisome and growing trend of robberies committed at drive-thru windows. We have heard story after story of suspected criminals fleeing the vandalized properties of our members, including in stolen vehicles, while police were unable to intervene due to state law.

The rise in property crime is multifaceted, complicated and does not have a one-size fits all solution. But we do know that accountability over the last few years has been almost nonexistent on nonviolent crimes. In our case, this is costly and demoralizing for business owners, undermining to our employees’ sense of safety when interacting with the community and emboldening to those who would commit these crimes. While there have been a large number of public safety bills introduced this legislative session, the Washington Hospitality Association strongly believes the Legislature, in particular, should grant law enforcement the tools necessary to pursue and apprehend those individuals who are harming our guests and businesses. And because drug abuse is a common element involved in many of these crimes, we are also strongly supporting legislation that encourages drug treatment for offenders in possession of prohibited substances.

The fact is, because of the role hospitality plays in our communities, the impact of these crimes targeting our businesses isn’t merely limited to our industry. Hospitality businesses are vital to the fabric of their communities. When your favorite local restaurant becomes a target of crime, it is not just devastating for the owners, employees and guests — it fuels the public perception that the entire community is vulnerable to crime. Hospitality businesses are bellwethers for a community’s shared sense of public safety — if hospitality businesses become unsafe, a crisis of confidence in the safety of the community can quickly take root.

We as an industry are motivated to prevent the increased incidents of crime as well as the manner in which these crimes can undermine a given community’s perception of public safety. We will continue to contribute our voices, experiences and insights, and work together with lawmakers on practical, effective solutions that keep our communities safe and help community members feel safe.