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Violent crime up as Washington state sees decrease in police officers: 2021 crime report

Violent crime, including murder and assault, increased by more than 12% in 2021 while the number of police officers decreased 4.4%, according to the report.

SEATTLE — Violent crimes and murders increased while the number of police officers available to respond to incidents decreased in 2021, according to a state crime report released by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC).

The annual crime report, compiled by WASPC, tracks crime and arrest data from law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

Steven Strachan, executive director of WASPC, said the report is designed to give residents, elected officials and law enforcement data-driven information about crime in their communities. 

"This is just very specific data, about crime trends, about our staffing level, about a couple of things that sort of stand out. But the numbers are all there. We're very transparent. We wanted to get this out to everybody so that they have that information within their communities," said Strachan.

According to the report, violent crime overall, which includes murder, aggravated assault, robbery and rape, increased by 12.3% in 2021. 

There were 325 murders in 2021, an increase of 5.9% over 2020, following a 47% increase the year before. Strachan said this is the highest number of murders recorded since WASPC began collecting this data in 1980.

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"It is worth noting because it's a reasonable question to ask, 'What about the murder rate when you take into account population?' You can see that the murder rate actually was slightly higher in the mid-90s and again in the late 80s. So we need to make sure that we're using the data in a transparent way – highest number of murders in terms of numbers," said Strachan.

Hate crimes in the state increased by 26.5% in 2021 with the most frequent offenses being intimidation and destruction of property.

Total crime overall is statistically down slightly, including a 78.8% decrease in identity theft and fraud from 2020, largely due to the huge spike in unemployment fraud during the pandemic.

Other factors contributing to the statistical downward trend include a 60.9% decrease in drug offenses and a 73.6% decrease in drug arrests, due to a change in state laws.

"This is predominantly due to the Blake decision in 2021, which completely changed the ability to charge a criminal offense for personal possession of any drug," said Strachan.

In February 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the state's simple drug possession crime statute was unconstitutional and voided it.

RELATED: New Washington state law makes drug possession a misdemeanor

Washington state lost nearly 500 police officers statewide in 2021 as the state's population grew more than the population of Everett, according to the report.

The state's population gained 116,440 residents from 2020 to 7,772,505, according to the Washington State Office of Financial Management.

The number of commissioned law enforcement officers decreased 4.4%. The per capita rate of law enforcement officers fell to 1.38 per 1,000 statewide.

"When the staffing is down, the numbers are up," said Strachan.

Strachan said it is the lowest per capita rate of officers the state has seen since WASPC began tracking this data in 1980, and it's the lowest in the nation. The national average per capita rate for officers is 2.33 officers per 1,000, according to the FBI. 

"Right now, a lot of agencies are treading water. Not every single one. Not every single agency is in a staffing crisis; many are," said Strachan. "These things are problems with solutions, and that is to support good policing and to recognize that public safety is important."

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