For the second year in a row, Washington saw an increase in homicides and other violent crimes in 2022, while the number of officers statewide dropped to the lowest rate in its history.
The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs released its annual crime report Monday, which showed that last year, property crime increased by 9.8% and violent crimes, which include aggravated assault, homicide, forcible sex offenses and robbery, increased 8.9% compared with 2021.
There were 394 homicides last year, an increase of 16.6% compared with the prior year. While the number of homicides is the highest recorded in a single year since the organization started collecting data in 1980, the rate is below where it was in 1994 after accounting for population.
The statewide increase is particularly concerning, WASPC Executive Director Steven Strachan said, when taking into account the lower officer staffing rate.
While recent research has shown the start of a downward trend of violent crime, that trend is not reflected statewide in Washington, he said Monday.
“I think that’s the critical question that our policymakers need to confront,” he said. “How do we need to change that? This is not the same as every national trend.”
In King County, officials saw most violent crime slowly trend downward the first half of 2023, dropping from a high point during the height of the pandemic. But the county’s homicide rate was relatively steady through the first quarter of 2023, with a slight rise compared with the same period last year.
While arrests for drug and narcotics violations decreased 33% in 2022, Strachan added he does not believe this large dip will embolden dealers or lead to a significant increase in drug arrests next year.
Officer staffing hits all-time low
In 2022, the number of officers decreased by 70 to around 10,600 officers statewide. The drop brought the staffing rate to 1.36 officers per 1,000 people, putting Washington at the 51st-lowest rate among all U.S. states and Washington, D.C., for the 13th year in a row, according to Strachan.
Nationally, the rate is around 2.31 officers per 1,000 people.
The dip in officers follows the 4.4% loss of 495 officers statewide in 2021.
A lower officers-to-people ratio means “less ability to provide justice for victims,” Strachan said. “That’s what it’s all about. It leads to more reactive response.”
Assaults on officers increased to 2,375 incidents, a 42% increase since 2018.
Vehicle thefts on the rise
Vehicle theft was up 34% in 2022, with 47,448 stolen cars, compared with 35,385 in 2021.
The statewide statistics align with thefts in Seattle.
In February, the Seattle Police Department’s annual crime statistics showed a 30% increase in motor vehicle theft from 2021 to 2022. In particular, there has been an increase in stolen Hyundais and Kias.
Hate crime reports dip
Reports of hate crimes fell 8.1% in 2022, mirroring Seattle’s hate crime decrease of 14% last year. The most frequent incidents include intimidation, destruction of property and assaults.
Hate crimes are often underreported, and law enforcement statistics might not truly reflect the number of bias and hate crimes.
“We’re going to want to watch that over time and again, really focus on increasing the comfort with which people have reporting hate crimes in the first place,” Strachan said.