North Idaho has the highest crime rate in the state, eclipsing the Boise area, according to the state’s latest crime statistics.
It’s a trend that’s been growing in recent years. The Boise area had a much higher crime rate than the Panhandle as recently as 2008, but since then, North Idaho’s rate has surged as the state’s overall crime rates have dropped.
“Our guys are working hard and they’re doing a good job, but it’s just trying to keep up is the hard part,” said Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger.
One factor: Kootenai County is becoming part of a Spokane-North Idaho metropolitan area, rather than an isolated, more rural area with a seasonal influx of visitors.
Lt. Fred Swanson of the Idaho State Police in Coeur d’Alene said that’s more the case now than a decade ago, when the Boise area outpaced North Idaho in crimes per 100,000 population, with the differences showing up in all types of crimes.
In the 2013 “Crime in Idaho” report, released this month by the Idaho State Police, North Idaho’s per-capita rates of auto thefts, burglaries, drug crimes, assaults, thefts and stolen property offenses were close to twice those of the Boise area.
The more-populated Southern Idaho region had higher rates of forgery, fraud and prostitution-related offenses; the two regions were roughly equal in rates of rapes, robberies, sex crimes and weapons violations.
Swanson, who has worked in Coeur d’Alene since 1991, said the area is seeing more serious crime.
“I know we’ve been busier,” he said. “It’s the same kind of job, but it seems like we’re just doing more of it.”
At the same time, the ISP has fewer resources, he noted. Budget cuts have trimmed three detectives from the ISP in Coeur d’Alene since 2006; the number of patrol officers has remained flat. Meanwhile, the population in Idaho’s five northernmost counties has grown about 5 percent.
The Boise region’s population has grown 18 percent in the same time period.
Swanson said that region has a more stable population, while North Idaho sees a constant influx of visitors from the larger Spokane metro area to its west.
Wolfinger said, “On a given day in our jail, 25 or 30 percent of our population roughly is from outside of Kootenai County. We see a huge influx in criminal activity coming out of Spokane County. … We’re dealing with another 600,000 or so people over there. It’s a huge influence, having that large metro area so close.”
He added, “People come to play in North Idaho. … We’re also seeing their crooks come here to commit crimes.”