City leaders want Tacoma to be known as one of the safest cities in Washington by 2025. Considering recent crime statistics, that’s a high bar.
In 2014, Tacoma had the highest rate of property crime among several Western Washington cities — Seattle included — that used the same crime reporting system, according to the city’s Property Crimes Reduction Task Force. That was in a state that had the worst-in-the-nation rate of property crimes reported to FBI.
The task force’s findings, including that only 8 percent to 11 percent of reported property crimes in Tacoma are investigated, due to lack of evidence and police resources, led to dozens of recommendations to begin to chip away at quality-of-life crimes.
The recommendations ranged from increasing funding for Pierce County drug court to beefing up police department spending on property-crime investigations, to using social media to educate residents on protecting themselves.
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The task force members spoke from experience.
“Property crime is all too common in our city. In fact, I believe every member of the task force has been a victim of property crime at some point while living here in Tacoma,” said co-chair William King. “The city is doing a lot to address this issue, but as a community, we think we can do better.”
Of the task force’s 35 recommendations — a shortened list, they said — two specifically called for increasing police funding, and one suggested adding money for patrol officer positions, specifically for community liaison officers. The task force’s co-chairs said expanding community-oriented policing — meaning police who are on the ground, working a beat and getting to know an area and its residents — could result in more reporting of property crimes.
“Funding additional officers has high value in terms of crime reduction and community building,” the report says. “If residents know and respect police, they may be less likely to commit crimes.”
Still, with a police force that’s down 60 officers since 2008, Councilman Robert Thoms said he was “skeptical, if not mad” that the report didn’t more vividly call for restoring officers to the city’s force.
“I thought it’s a bit odd it wasn’t enumerated more strongly out of 30-some-odd recommendations,” Thoms said.
The city needs to lead the effort to combat property crime, King said. But, as noted by several council members and City Manager T.C. Broadnax at the meeting where the report was discussed, many of those recommendations come with hefty price tags.
“We can’t afford to arrest our way out of this, and the police are doing a great job in many ways already,” King said. Of those crimes that are investigated, police make an arrest about 70 percent of the time. There have been about 21,000 property crimes — which the city defines as offenses ranging from vandalism and fraud to burglary and arson — reported in the city in each of the past three years, the report says.
The report also touches on trends in crime, including the bump during summer and holidays when people tend to be away on vacation. Lower income areas are hit more frequently, according to the report, but higher income areas see bigger losses in terms of value.
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While they said they have no solid data on motives, co-chairs King and Priscilla Lisicich said there is a “clear connection” between property crime and substance abuse.
Lisicich pointed to a “lack of capacity to treat those with substance abuse problems” in the city. “If, as it seems, addiction is a major underlying cause of property crime, then we have to work to address this,” she said.
The council’s Community Vitality and Safety Committee is scheduled to consider the report Tuesday, in hopes of paring down and prioritizing some of the recommendations.
8-11% Number of reported property crimes investigated in Tacoma
70% Number of investigated cases referred to city or county for prosecution
70% Number of those referred cases that see charges filed
Among the recommendations they will review:
▪ Increase funding for youth employment programs.
▪ Advocate for an increase in state funding for drug treatment and mental health services.
▪ Promote economic development as a way to cut crime in more blighted areas.
▪ Increase funding for graffiti removal and other nuisance abatement.