Vehicle thefts were up 42 percent in Kent in 2016 compared to 2015. Photo Illustration

Kent crime rates on the rise

Crime rates jumped in Kent across nearly all categories in 2016 compared to the previous year.

Nine out of 10 categories were up, including jumps of 42 percent in motor vehicle thefts and 22 percent in property crimes, according to the FBI’s 2016 report on national crime statistics released last month.

“It’s concerning whenever there’s an increase in crime when our job is to keep the community safe,” Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas said. “We are paying close attention. We try to deploy resources where we can be as effective as we can.”

Arson is the only category where the numbers decreased in Kent, with 16 cases in 2016 compared to 19 the previous year, a 15 percent drop.

The FBI annually compiles numbers reported to its Uniform Crime Reporting Program by more than 16,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide.

“The more complete the data, the better we can inform, educate and strengthen all of our communities,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a news release about the 2016 report.

The number of motor vehicle thefts in Kent jumped to 1,433 in 2016 from 1,007 in 2015, a 42 percent hike.

Kent and other agencies in the region encountered a large increase in the number of vehicle thefts, according to a statistical report compiled for Thomas by Kent Police crime analyst Kevin Axelson.

“So far in 2017, we are tracking 12 percent lower than the 2016 numbers,” Axelson said.

Kent had 1,027 vehicle thefts through September of last year. That number has dropped 12 percent so far this year to 904.

Kent Police formed a task force to begin a vehicle theft and vehicle prowl emphasis in May 2016 that resulted in 201 arrests for possession of stolen vehicle in 2016 compared to 137 arrests in 2015, a 46 percent increase. The emphasis patrols helped the stolen vehicle numbers decrease so far this year, Axelson said.

“A small number of people commit a large number of crimes,” Thomas said about people who steal vehicles, strip them of their parts and then sell those parts.

The number of vehicle thefts and vehicle prowls in 2016 in Kent drove a 22 percent jump in property crime rates, Axelson said.

“This increase has been attributed by street contacts and through arrest interviews to the opioid epidemic hitting our area,” Axelson said about people who use drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone and others.

Thomas said the opioid epidemic has spiked the crime numbers.

“We see an enormous number of people commit crimes to drive their drug habit,” Thomas said. “We’ve always seen that but never at this level. The majority are drug related.”

Violent crimes were up 10 percent in 2016 in Kent as the numbers jumped to 372 from 338. Kent had six homicides in 2016, one more than the previous year. A total of 66 rapes were reported in 2016 compared to 61 in 2015, an 8 percent increase. Robberies jumped 14 percent and aggravated assaults were up 5 percent.

So far in 2017, Kent has had eight homicides, including two officer-involved shootings. The city had four homicides in 2014, three in 2013 and two in 2012. The number of reported rapes has remained fairly consistent over the past five years, Axelson said.

City crime comparisons

The statistical report that crime analyst Axelson compiled for Thomas included numbers comparing Kent’s crime stats in 2016 to the neighboring cities of Seattle, Tacoma, Federal Way, Auburn, Des Moines, Renton and Tukwila.

“Notwithstanding the shooting over the weekend (of Oct. 1 when two men were killed), our overall numbers – except for the property crimes rate – Kent is the safest community in South King County,” Thomas said about the city with a population of 127,000.

The report by Axelson compares Kent’s crime rates per 1,000 residents to the crime rate in other cities.

Kent had the lowest person’s crime rate with 2.9 crimes per 1,000 population despite a 10 percent jump in homicides, rapes, robberies and assaults. Tacoma (9.5 per 1,000) and Tukwila (8.3) had the highest rates.

Kent had the third lowest homicide rate (0.047 per 1,000 residents); fourth lowest rape rate (0.513); second lowest robbery rate (1.28) and lowest aggravated assault rate (1.05) per 1,000 residents. Tukwila had the highest homicide rate (0.099); rape rate (1.337); and robbery rate (4.11). Tacoma had the highest aggravated assault rate (6.14).

As far as property crimes, Kent ranked fourth highest at 58.5 per 1,000 residents. Tukwila (154.9) had the highest. Kent also ranked in the middle in burglaries (8.24) with Tacoma on top (11.53). Kent ranked fourth in vehicle thefts (11.14 per 1,000 residents) with Tukwila the highest (26.44).

Crime rate reductions

Thomas expects an increase in the number of officers in Kent could help lower the crime rates.

“With additional resources and police presence, we should have a positive impact on the amount of crime,” he said.

The City Council has approved a staff of 153 officers, which has included the addition of a few officers in each of the last couple of years. Mayor Suzette Cooke proposed in her 2018 budget adjustment last month that the council refer an utility tax increase to voters next spring to increase the number of officers.

“That would add about 30 officers,” Thomas said about the proposal, which the council will consider during its budget deliberations. “We are in a staffing crisis. We are trying to hire as quickly as possible. But every officer has been placed on mandatory overtime. They are doing good work. But with the volume of calls and our resources, there is not a lot of time to be proactive.”

Even with approval for 153 officers, Thomas said it can take as much as a year to get an officer fully trained. He said 20 officers are in the training pipeline now. An eventual increase to 180 officers could make a big difference.

“That is about what we need to be the most effective in the community to help keep residents safe,” Thomas said. “Our focus is on safety and a positive quality of life for residents.”

Thomas said the drive to get more officers doesn’t mean residents should live in fear until staff is increased, despite the increases in crime from 2015 to 2016.

“I don’t want to raise an alarm that this is a terrible place,” he said. “We are doing all we can to address the increase in crime.”

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