Report: Incidents of violent crime, homicides surge in Washington

Dec 6, 2023, 5:00 PM | Updated: 5:13 pm

Image: A Seattle police vehicle is seen at a crime scene behind yellow tape in 2022....

A Seattle police vehicle is seen at a crime scene. (Photo courtesy of SPD Blotter)

(Photo courtesy of SPD Blotter)

Drug overdoses, property crime and a high number of unsolved cases highlight the latest crime statistics released for the state of Washington.

The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center presented a mixed narrative Tuesday, reflecting significant shifts in different crime categories over the past decade. (You can view the organization’s document here.)

The council presented to the House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee at the state capitol in Olympia.

Over the last 10 years, the leading cause of death has been alcohol-induced deaths, with a rate of nearly 45 per 100,000 residents.

Fatal drug overdoses and suicides were tied for years at a rate of roughly 15-17 deaths per 100,000 residents. However, in the last three years, the fatal drug overdose rate has skyrocketed to nearly 38 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2022.

Highlighting other alarming figures, 261,323 property crime incidents were reported to the police in 2022. This rate has earned Washington the unfortunate distinction of having the highest property crime rate in the Western United States and ranking second highest nationwide.

However, amidst this concerning trend, specific property crimes diverged: Motor vehicle theft surged by 65%, while burglary plummeted 37% and larceny dropped 11%.

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Concerning number of violent crimes in Washington

Shifting focus to violent crimes, 29,247 such incidents were reported in 2022, marking the 6th-lowest violent crime rate in the region, but the 24th-highest in the country. The rate equated to nearly 400 reported violent crimes per 100,000 residents, placing New Mexico at the highest in the Western U.S. with almost 800 per 100,000 residents.

“Certainly, the ability to get illegally-possessed guns is part of it,” Casey McNerthney with the King County Prosecutor’s Office told KIRO Newsradio’s James Lynch. “Having 400 fewer officers in Seattle, that’s part of it.”

Over the last decade, violent crime surged by 26% in Washington, with aggravated assault climbing by 37%, homicides spiking by 58%, robberies inching up by 3% and rape surging by 20%.

Of grave concern is the surge in homicides between 2019 and 2022, escalating by a staggering 89%. This surge in homicides was mirrored across various jurisdiction sizes, with Benton County reporting the highest homicide rate of 19.2 per 100,000 residents.

The statistics also revealed the age group of victims has remained the same over the last 10 years with approximately half of the homicide victims falling within the age bracket of 20 to 39.

Furthermore, while the number of white homicide victims increased by 36%, Black homicide victims doubled from 2018 to 2022.

One of the most concerning revelations from the organization’s report is the increased rate of unsolved violent crimes. In 2022, a staggering 61% of violent crimes reported to the police in Washington went unsolved, marking a significant increase from a decade ago. The King County Prosecutor’s Office stated its top priority is charging with repeat offenses and responding to serious, violent cases. These serious, violent cases are not only at historic levels, according to the released data, but also take significantly more time and resources to prosecute compared to less serious crime.

“Not only is it a stretch for prosecutors and police, but also for victims’ advocates, like many that work in our office,” McNerthney said. “The more cases you have, the more strain it is on everybody.”

McNerthney said 95% of homicide and firearm cases are charged immediately, but they are more complicated and take long to move through the system, than lesser cases. The unit in the prosecutor’s office that handles these cases is known as the Most Dangerous Offenders Project (MDOP). Members of the unit are on-call 24/7 to respond to crime scenes alongside police and deputies.

“Prosecutors are charging felony gun crimes every day, charging repeat property offenses each day, staying in constant communication with law enforcement, working proactively with community groups to prevent tragedies and recidivism,” McNerthney said.

The unsolved rates were particularly high for various crime categories, with 47% of homicides, 55% of aggravated assaults, 72% of rapes, and 74% of robberies remaining unresolved.

Additional findings

From 2010 to 2021, Washington witnessed notable changes in its prison populations, marking a decline of 25%, while New Jersey recorded the most significant drop at 50%. On the other side, Nebraska saw a 22% jump.

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Commenting on the findings, The Justice Center’s Council of State Governments highlighted the urgency for a comprehensive and effective violent crime strategy.

The organization emphasized that research indicates the certainty, rather than the severity, of punishment as the key deterrent to crime.

The council stressed the importance of increasing accountability and responding more effectively to individuals committing violent crimes, identifying this as a crucial avenue for reducing crime rates and enhancing community safety.

The information will be used by state lawmakers during the upcoming session which begins Jan. 8th.

Contributing: James Lynch, KIRO Newsradio

You can read more of Matt Markovich’s stories here. Follow Matt on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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