The 2010 crime rate numbers are in for the Spokane Valley Police Department and show mixed results. Violent crimes are down, but property crimes are up. Those results follow the same trends that are happening in other areas of Spokane County.
Violent crimes include murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. That rate fell from 3 per thousand in population in 2009 to 1.8 per thousand in 2010. But it doesn’t include “simple” assaults like domestic violence assaults “which is probably the majority of assaults” said Spokane Valley Police Lt. Matt Lyons.
Property crimes include arson, burglary, larceny and vehicle theft. The latter three categories were up while the arson rate went down. Overall the property crime rate went up from 36.7 per thousand in population in 2009 to 46.9 per thousand in 2010. Those numbers are driven in part by a surge in garage burglaries. “All it takes is one guy,” said Lyons.
That upward surge in property crimes is being seen across the state, Lyons said. Some of the causes of the increased rate are probably the economy and the high unemployment rate, which spiked in Spokane County in 2009 “There’s an impact on citizens and society,” he said.
In some cases property crimes can be prevented. Police have been seeing a lot of people leaving valuables in plain sight in unlocked cars overnight, which are then stolen. “It’s happening continuously,” he said. “The number of vehicle prowls is up.”
Another frequent crime is thieves breaking into trailers at construction sites to steal tools. Often the tools are the property of individual workers, who then can’t work until the tools are replaced.
“We almost take that personal,” Lyons said. “I feel their pain and frustration. We target that as much as we can. We just can’t catch them all.”
By comparison, the violent crime rate in Spokane dropped only fractionally from 6.2 per thousand in population in 2009 to 6.1 per thousand in 2010. Property crimes also increased, up to 72.9 per thousand in population in 2010 from 64.4 per thousand in 2009.
But there is good news to be had. “I know that our clearance and solvability is up,” Lyons said. The number of property crimes solved in Spokane Valley increased by 39 percent from 2009 to 2010. That is due in large part on the new emphasis on intelligence-led policing, which has detectives focusing on crimes that seem to be connected rather than investigating each case separately. It has led to some cases in the last year that led to lengthy lists of charges filed against multiple people. “We end up solving a whole bunch of crimes we didn’t know were connected by the time we’re done,” he said. “It’s more efficient work that we’re doing.”
Just the fact that some crime rates are increasing doesn’t tell the whole story, Lyons said. The Spokane Valley Police Department has four platoons of 11 officers each. The city is divided into six districts. In theory at any given time there would be 11 officers patrolling the six districts. “That just doesn’t happen anymore,” Lyons said.
Since the Sheriff’s Office has been cutting staff over the years, the department as a whole has more seniority and therefore more accrued vacation to use. Between vacations, injuries and illnesses there is rarely a full platoon on duty. “As a whole, our department is getting older,” he said. The average patrol staffing per shift has dropped from 7.706 officers in 2005 to 6.874 officers in 2011.
While Spokane Valley has not cut the number of officers on patrol, the workload has increased significantly since the city incorporated in 2003. The population has grown from 82,000 to more than 90,000. The calls for service have risen from about 28,500 in 2005 to nearly 32,000 in 2010. Most departments try to have enough officers so that each handles 700 to 800 calls a year.
“Our officers are doing 1,300 calls per officer per year,” Lyons said. “I think it might be higher than that.”
But despite the struggles Lyons said he plans to analyze the most recent crime statistics to find out what the causes of the increases are and if it is in the department’s power to fix them. “If there’s something we can do to react, we want to do it,” he said. “I’d like to see them all go down. We want more reductions.”