Crime fell in nearly every city in Spokane County in 2015, according to new FBI crime statistics, bucking a national trend showing increased murder rates in many large American cities.
Overall, the FBI report released Monday showed a national increase of 10.8 percent in murders and non-negligent manslaughters. In Washington, the number of murders grew 7.4 percent, while the population for cities reporting crime statistics grew 2 percent.
Experts say the increase is driven by a spike in violent crime in at least several large cities, but they caution that the country is in the midst of such low crime rates that even the tiniest increase appears larger than it is.
“There are problems with violence in certain American cities and we need to work to address that, but there’s no evidence of a national crime wave,” said Inimai Chettiar of the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at New York University School of Law.
Spokane reported 12 murders in 2015, up from 10 in 2014. But violent crime rates fell in every major city in Spokane County, and property crime rates were down too. Here’s a breakdown of what the FBI data show for Spokane County.
1. Property crime fell slightly across Spokane County.
Property crime rates remain a frequent complaint for Spokane residents, and newly-appointed police Chief Craig Meidl has listed addressing those rates as one of his top priorities. But according to the FBI data, Spokane’s property crime rate fell from 86 crimes per 1,000 residents in 2014 to 75 in 2015.
Put another way, that means the average resident’s chance of being a property crime victim went from just under 1 in 12 to a little over 1 in 13. In total, police reported 15,971 property crimes in 2015 to the FBI, the vast majority of which were non-vehicle thefts.
Police Maj. Justin Lundgren attributed the drop to the department’s focus on repeat property crime offenders.
“We target our investigations and our enforcement to focus on that group of people,” he said.
Property crime also dropped slightly in Spokane Valley, from 57 crimes per 1,000 residents to 52.
Spokane had the highest property crime rate of any city that submitted data in Spokane County. The lowest was Liberty Lake, with just 15 crimes per 1,000 residents.
Property crime rates were lower in 2015 than 2014 for every other city in Spokane County with the exception of Airway Heights, which saw an increase in the property crime rate from 50 crimes per 1,000 people to 53.
2. Drops in property crime may not hold in 2016.
After a good year in 2015, both the city and the county are seeing property crimes trend upward this year. In Spokane, that’s driven by an increase in vehicle thefts, which are up nearly 21 percent citywide year-to-date, and other thefts, which are up about 5 percent, according to the department’s latest weekly report.
Lundgren said many officers are in training now, which has led to reduced patrol staffing. He also said bed space in the jail has been reduced since 2015, leading to earlier releases of prolific offenders.
Spokane County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Deputy Mark Gregory said rates are also trending up across the county, but he said it’s hard to attribute the 2015 drop or the current rise to a single cause.
He said deputies focus on intelligence-based policing driven by tips from citizens and try to patrol hot spots and problem areas.
“That’s what we’re trying to do. It’s not an exact science,” he said.
3. Violent crime rates are down, barely.
Violent crime rates were lower in 2015 for every city reporting data in Spokane County, but that’s more likely to be a statistical fluke than a meaningful data point. In every city, violent crime decreased by less than one crime per 1,000 residents, a difference few people are likely to notice.
Gregory and Lundgren both cautioned against drawing conclusions from small drops or rises in crime, especially for categories like homicide where the sample size is so small.
“There’s really no rhyme or reason to that number and it’s really a small fluctuation,” Lundgren said of the increase in murders. “They’re well within the norms of what we’ve experienced.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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