Check out our interactive map of the city’s top property crimes, by neighborhood. Overall property crimes have decreased in recent years, but these three neighborhoods lead the city.
No one is immune from being the victim of a property crime in Seattle — not even the city’s top cop charged with fighting those crimes.
“I’ve had my car prowled,” said Assistant Chief Marc Garth Green, who heads the Criminal Investigations Bureau at the Seattle Police Department.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “You walk out in the morning to get in your car to go to work, and the window’s broken out. Your day is shot. You have to get a new window. You have to call the insurance company and the police.”
It’s a frustration experienced by many Seattleites. We have one of the highest rates of reported property crime among the nation’s largest cities, according to FBI data.
Seattle police make crime statistics available online, but only the raw numbers are displayed for city neighborhoods, which have widely varying population numbers. In order to compare the level of property crime across neighborhoods, I calculated a rate based on population, using the most recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. To get a larger sample, I used property-crime data from 2015 through September 2017.
The highest overall rates of property crime in that period were in three downtown neighborhoods: Sodo; the city’s downtown commercial core; and Pioneer Square, in that order.
That’s to be expected.
The daytime populations of these neighborhoods swell as workers, shoppers and tourists pour in — and, sadly, stand the chance of having their car or bicycle stolen, being pickpocketed or becoming the victim of some other property crime.
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While the Sodo neighborhood doesn’t have a lot of residents, it sure has a lot of parked cars. The city’s major pro-sports arenas are located here, so it attracts a lot of visitors who drive in.
More than half of the property crimes in Sodo are car prowls or vehicle theft. The neighborhood ranks No. 1 for the rates of both those crimes, and also for nonresidential burglaries.
Sodo’s overall property crime rate in the nearly three-year period was 1,220 crimes per 1,000 residents — in other words, there were more property crimes than residents. The same is true of just one other neighborhood — Seattle’s downtown core, with a rate of 1,164 per 1,000 people.
Car prowls are also the top property crime downtown, but shoplifting is a close second, with nearly 3,000 reported in this period.
That’s nearly double the shoplifting reports from the No. 2 neighborhood for that crime, Northgate, home of the shopping mall.
Pioneer Square, which rounds out the top three, has a high rate of car prowls and other types of theft. It has the highest rate of reported bicycle theft and pickpocketing/purse-snatching in the city.
Georgetown is a funky little neighborhood in South Seattle that certainly attracts its share of visitors, but perhaps not enough to explain why it has the fourth highest rate of overall property crime. The area has a disproportionately high rate of burglaries, car prowls, vehicle thefts and property damage.
“The numbers aren’t staggering, but for a small area like that, it really draws attention to it,” Garth Green said. “But I don’t really have a sense of why that is. It’s something we’ll look into, definitely.”
A handful of neighborhoods in Rainier Valley and the south end of West Seattle have the highest rate of residential burglary. Rainier View ranks No. 1 with a rate of 29 burglaries per 1,000 residents in this period.
South Lake Union has the highest rate of theft from secure parking garages.
Is Seattle’s rate really so high?
While Seattle’s property crime is high in relation to most other major cities, it’s important to keep in mind that there are some pitfalls when trying to compare places using these statistics.
For one, the data represent only a sliver of the actual number of crimes committed. A national survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that in 2015, victims of property crime only filed police reports about 35 percent of the time.
Some types of crime do have a higher reporting rate, though. Motor vehicle theft is reported 69 percent of the time, more than any other crime.
There are other complications.
Garth Green says that the way practices vary among police departments might have an effect on how many property crime reports they receive.
“There’s a large number of agencies that don’t report to car prowls. You can go online to file the report, but the police will not come out,” he said. “I think what happens a lot of times is that discourages people from reporting … nothing’s going to get done about it, so why bother?”
If Garth Green is right, that could help explain the high rate of property crime in Seattle, where the department is still willing to send officers to investigate car prowls. They are, in fact, the No. 1 reported property crime in the city. Last year, there were about 13,000, which is one-third of all property-crime complaints.
Repeat offenders targeted
There is some good news about property crime: It’s been going down.
Since a peak of about 41,000 in 2014, the number of reported crimes has declined, even as the city’s population has grown. Last year, property-crime reports totaled about 39,000. Vehicle theft, residential burglary and, to a lesser degree, car prowls, have declined.
That’s not a fluke, Garth Green says. In the past few years, the Seattle Police Department has ramped up its efforts to combat the high level of property crime, and it’s paying off, he said. One strategy is a new focus on tracking prolific offenders, who are identified through analysis of crime data and other sources.
“We’ve had people who’ve committed burglaries or car prowls in the hundreds,” Garth Green said.
He added that many of these prolific offenders have been willing to cooperate with investigators, and turned out to be great sources of information.
Not every type of property crime has declined. Reports of nonresidential burglary, burglary from secure parking garages, and shoplifting have gone up.
Why bother calling the cops?
Whether crime is up or down, statistics don’t matter much when you become the victim. And I’ve certainly heard from readers about this topic, and their frustration with reporting property crimes. Many say the wait time is unacceptable, or that they felt that the police wouldn’t do anything about it. I asked Garth Green about that.
“It’s not that we don’t care — we do. We worry about all crimes within the city. And I understand people’s frustrations when we can’t get there as quickly as they would like,” he said. “We respond to violent crime first … for the safety of citizens. [Property crimes] may get pushed down to the bottom, but we’re still working to get out there as quickly as we can.”
He added that property crimes are particularly frustrating because they so rarely have closure. There are often no witnesses to the crime, no DNA or other evidence, and so the crime goes unsolved.
But he says it’s still important to report property crimes, because the police look for patterns. That one bit of information from your car prowl might link to 30 or 40 other cases.
“We need all that information,” Garth Green said.