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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Stats show crime continues to fall in Spokane, whatever people ‘feel’ about it

Shawn Vestal (DAN PELLE)
Shawn Vestal (DAN PELLE)

Not long ago, Mayor-elect Nadine Woodward said people need to be made to feel it’s safe downtown.

Maybe she should share the city’s own crime stats with them. The accurate ones. The recent ones. Because when it comes to crime in Spokane, downtown and citywide, the recent news has been good, and the latest news is good again.

Whatever people “feel” about it.

In June, as the election campaign was grinding into life, the city’s CompStat crime-reporting system showed that the number of crimes reported citywide was trending downward from the previous year. They were 13% below where they’d been at the same time last year.

Now – following a campaign in which the terrors of downtown were emphasized and the hack video “Curing Spokane” deployed year-old statistics to paint a picture of out-of-control downtown criminality – six additional months of data show further improvement.

Citywide, crime reports are down 17% from this time last year, according to the latest weekly CompStat report, dated Dec. 7.

In real numbers, that amounts to almost 3,000 fewer reported crimes.

And downtown – that supposed hellscape of crime and debauchery – crime has fallen 15%. Violent and nonviolent. Burglaries, larcenies, assaults.

We have crime in this town – crime that would make you feel unsafe if you were the target of it – and yet I feel strongly that people should feel safe in Spokane, generally and specifically downtown. Of course we do have crime, and we do have violent crime, though our most stubborn problems are nonviolent property crimes, and no one’s perception of their own safety is anyone else’s business to determine.

Despite all of that, I would argue that most of the “safety” question downtown is, and has long been, mostly a kind of code for referring to an impulsive distaste for the sight and plight of homeless people.

How much of our “problem” falls into that realm? How much is just that we’ve had a little more contact than we prefer with “undesirable” people?

A lot, in my view. Though it’s unmeasurable.

What is measurable, on the other hand, are crime reports.

As always, it’s important to recognize that crime trends are volatile. It’s important to remember that truly meaningful trends unfold over time, not month by month. And it’s important to understand that the SPD adopted a new method of counting stats a few years back that presents a foreshortened window for such analysis.

It’s also fair to point out that whenever I have reported crime statistics that don’t show the sky is falling, people reach out to tell me that the sky is actually falling – it’s just that people no longer report the crimes.

This is possible, of course. But no more than that – possible, with not a single concrete factual reason, so far as I can see, confirming that possibility. In fact, crime reports are down in specific categories in which I flatly do not believe reporting is down because they involve insurance claims.

Car theft and car break-ins, for example, have long been among our most common crimes. If your car is broken into – I say as someone whose car has been broken into six times in 20 years – you report it, not because the police are going to rush over and solve the case, but because you need to report it to get your insurance.

And car thefts are down 25%.

People also sometimes reject good-news stats because, they say, the cops or the city are “juking the stats” – referring to the TV show “The Wire,” which featured politically motivated manipulations of crime stats. I love “The Wire” as much as anybody, but it’s not remotely dispositive on this question.

Meanwhile, in the real world, our police force has grown significantly and the crime reports have dropped significantly.

Here’s are the highlights from the Dec. 9 CompStat report:

    Citywide, crime reports are down 17%, year-to-date, over last year. Every single category of crime showed a decrease but one: commercial robbery. Those increased from 75 reports at this time last year to 81 this year.

    We have about 10 times more property crime in this city than violent crime. Among property crimes, there were large drops in residential burglary (22% down), auto theft (25% down) and larceny (16% down). Overall, those three categories of crimes – often associated with drug use, and with chronic repeat offenders – saw a drop of more than 2,600 reports.

    Downtown, crime reports dropped 15%, with roughly similar drops in both violent and nonviolent crimes. Again, robbery was the exception, with increases in commercial robberies (from 7 reports to 11) and residential robbery (from 43 to 48.)

    Reports in the city’s north precincts dropped 21%, with fewer reports across nearly all categories. In the south precincts, the reduction was more modest, 8%, and was offset by a jump of 20% in garage burglaries, from 161 to 193 reports.

There’s a good-news story to tell about crime in Spokane right now. The new mayor ought to tell it – and now that she’s headed for the big office and ownership of the city’s problems, one suspects she will.

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