Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla says a look at the 2021 crime statistics recorded by the city’s police department shows an increasing trend among many crime categories as monthly averages and annual totals seem to be growing in recent years.
“While this report will be very sobering to most, this disturbing trend, in terms of high crime, is universal throughout the region,” said Padilla during his Dec. 14 public safety report to the Kent City Council. “This is not unique to Kent.”
Data collected for the year, up through November, shows vehicle prowl incidents, which include break-ins and catalytic converter thefts, have increased by almost 50 per month in 2021 when compared to 2018. This is based on monthly averages which indicate that 2021 had an average of 163 vehicle prowl incidents per month and nearly 1,800 in total through November. In 2018, the department recorded less than 1,400 total — only 116 per month on average.
Padilla said this increase is part of a national trend of rising catalytic converter thefts, a car part that has precious metals worth more than gold. He said Kent has about 30 to 40 catalytic converter thefts a month.
In June, police turned up nearly 800 stolen catalytic converters as part of what Padilla called a “major operation.”
Vehicle thefts have also increased by 57% since 2019, according to Padilla.
Residential burglaries have been showing a decreasing trend over recent years, one of the positive takeaways from this year’s data, according to Padilla. The year-end residential burglary totals have been steadily decreasing, as they are down to 250 in 2021 from 350 in 2018.
Padilla attributes this decrease to the fact that the pandemic has kept people in their homes more often and that home security equipment and cameras have become more affordable for residents.
However, commercial burglaries have increased. There were 562 commercial burglaries in 2021, while 2019 only recorded 385. The monthly average rose from 32 in 2019 to 51 in 2021.
Shootings, which Padilla said include firearm incidents either with or without injuries or death, have risen from an average of six a month in 2019, to an average of 15 per month in 2021. Kent recorded 166 total shootings in 2021 from January to November.
Padilla said the increasing trend in shootings and gun violence began in the summer of 2020. He gave a host of changes and reasons why he believes this increasing trend in general crime has occurred.
He said COVID has had a major impact on the criminal justice system as a whole. With courts shut down and backlogged, thousands released from jails and prisons, and prosecution restrictions that he said allows felony-level crimes to go unprosecuted.
“This really has been a two-year case study on what crime looks like when we remove accountability and we don’t address issues through the criminal justice system,” Padilla told the city council.
He also pointed to new state laws that place restrictions on drug enforcement as well as “preventative” and “investigational” stops, as well as national labor shortage in law enforcement.
Padilla said the Kent Police Department has lost 30% of the officers the agency had just two years ago, with numbers continuing to dwindle.
He said the department is currently focused on “[controlling] everything that they can control,” taking a three-prong approach that includes increasing the amount of visible officers in uniform to increase feelings of safety and deter crime, collecting better intelligence and information to prevent and respond to crime, and to work with home and business owners in the community to address their safety needs.
Padilla said he still worries that the department and the community does not have the resources to do an adequate job of addressing the root cause of crime in Kent.