News

City's crime rate rose in '05

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

July of 2005 wasn't a good time for vehicle owners in Federal Way.

That month, more cars and trucks were stolen in the city than any other –– an average of 5.7 a day. That's 178 for the month.

Top that with a recent report from a state law enforcement organization that Federal Way had a 19.5 percent increase in crime last year, and the local police announced they are laying plans to bring crime rates down in the city.

This week, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) released a preliminary report of annual crime statistics. Federal Way had the second highest increase in reported crimes in the county. Kent reported a 28.6 percent increase. The final report will come out in July.

Federal Way had an unusual 2005 when comparing crime reports from previous years. By April of last year, the city had three homicides. There were more murders last year –– eight –– than any other year since the city incorporated. Since January of this year, there have been no homicides, and there were none in 2004. That was the first year in a decade there wasn't at least one.

In 2004, July was the slowest month for vehicle thefts. On average, more than two vehicles a day were stolen that month in Federal Way –– a total of 67.

Police commander Greg Wilson said the spike in homicides in 2005 had an impact on Federal Way's increase in crimes. He also pointed out not all agencies list similar crimes in the same categories and could have an impact on the report.

Other factors in the higher crime percentage included fewer officers on the streets than years past, and property crimes –– including car thefts –– that have their origins in drug use, especially methamphetamine, he said.

Among law enforcement in the region, meth is considered a driving reason for many other crimes, from burglaries to car thefts. Wilson said the FBI is starting to consider that meth addicts are robbing banks to get money for their habits.

When the WASPC report came out, Federal Way announced plans to bring crime rates down, especially vehicle thefts.

Car thefts don't occur within one jurisdiction, Wilson said, and the Police Department plans to work with other agencies in "regional auto-theft emphasis programs."

When asked for elaboration, Wilson said there wasn't any plan in place, but agencies would need to talk about what they could do to help each other. Maybe it would be identifying the top car thieves in the area and going after them, or networking with each other on stolen cars, he said.

He noted agencies already work together in other areas, like party patrols and drunk-driving crackdowns.

It's common for a car to get stolen in one community and get dumped in another, Wilson said. Last summer, several neighbors in Federal Way whose cars were stolen within nights of each other criticized area police agencies, including Federal Way, for not communicating with each other when the cars were found around the south Puget Sound.

Wilson said Federal Way and other departments in King County are going to work together on swapping information. Maybe they are looking for the same person, or they will target the more prolific thieves in the community.

Manpower shortages

Having several vacancies in the police ranks has been an issue for more than a year in Federal Way. Officers have left the department for several reasons. Wilson said there is a lot of competition between agencies for officers. Some of Federal Way's veterans left for organizations that paid better.

Those departures were noticed in the community. Many citizens have commented that officers didn't respond as quickly to non-emergency crimes as they had in the past, and police officials acknowledged the shortage in officers meant responding to high-priority crimes could tie up several officers and prolong responses to other calls. It has also meant the agency has temporarily frozen units focused on stopping lesser, but still important crimes like graffiti, vandalism and burglaries.

This month, the City Council approved a request the department "overhire" by seven more officers than provided for in the city budget. By hiring more officers than are budgeted, the department can try to offset the two to three months of waiting for an opening in the state's law enforcement academy and the six months cadets spend there learning to be cops. Officials said overhiring hopefully will also compensate for department's annual turnover, an average of seven officers.

But it's not that easy, because all cops shops are looking for more employee prospects and there are fewer quality candidates available.

Wilson said Federal Way has taken to looking beyond Washington for officers from other states. It has hired 10 from Honolulu, Hawaii because of internal conflict in that city's agency. Federal Way is also looking at Detroit, Mich., where several hundred officers were cut from the force following the Super Bowl in February.

Hiring experienced officers is good for a department trying to get more feet on the street, because the training time is only a few months compared to more than half of a year.

Wilson said he hopes more officers and working with other agencies will lower Federal Way's crime statistics when the sheriffs and chiefs association delivers its preliminary report next year.

A spokesman for the Kent Police Department said the 2005 preliminary report is misleading because the agency had a backlog in entering data from cases in 2004. In September of that year, Kent installed a new computer system that significantly speeded up the data entry, officials said.

Kent Police spokesman Paul Peterson said the agency speculated the backlog was the reason the department showed a significant jump in crime from 2004 to 2005.

"A close estimate" is the percentage increase in property crimes in Kent was 14 percent, Peterson said.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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