KHQ DIGGING DEEPER: Property Crimes By The Numbers - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

KHQ DIGGING DEEPER: Property Crimes By The Numbers

SPOKANE, Wash. - In the City of Spokane last year it didn't matter where you lived, how nice your home was, or what kind of car you drove. It seemed, no one was spared from property crimes when budget cuts couldn't afford to spare the officers who investigated them.

Starting July 1 the Spokane Police Department cut eight detective positions through attrition, effectively disbanding the Property Crimes Investigations Unit. Police encouraged people to continue reporting property crimes but said only five percent would be investigated.

Suddenly many people whose homes were broken into, and car prowled and stolen, were left to their own devices. Many members of the community felt outraged.

For the first time Tuesday KHQ Local News revealed exclusive year-end data straight from the Spokane Police Department, that showed exactly how many car prowls, thefts and burglaries impacted the citizens of Spokane.
 
Believe it or not, Spokane Police Strategic Analyst Carly Cortright explained that property crimes were virtually unchanged from 2010 to 2011. In fact, there were three fewer reported property crimes in 2011, dropping slightly from 15,042 to 15,039. Considered another way, for every 1000 citizens in the City of Spokane, 72 of them will be a victim of a property crime.

"We did not want to cut our property crimes unit," Cortright said. "I think there's a very big misperception that that was something we wanted to do and that wasn't true. It was a budgetary decision."

Police made the announcement so citizens would not have an expectation that most property crime cases would be investigated. Unfortunately, criminals also heard that message loud and clear.

"We started to see a big increase when we started letting people know we're not investigating property crimes anymore.," Cortright said. "Criminals thought they could get away with it."

In the next few months, car prowls and car thefts gradually increased. Some of the spikes were seasonal. But the most startling trend of all came a few months later when burglaries skyrocketed 46%. 
 
"November, was the highest month for burglaries I've see in over five years, so it was not good," Cortright said. "It was really high. It's a big concern for the department.
 
In half of all of those burglaries, people left their doors unlocked, according to Cortright. It was an opportunity criminals took full advantage of. Police blamed dozens of property crimes on two career criminals in particular: Alexander Stormy and Nathan Moore.
 
"During those weeks, our vehicle prowling numbers were spiking well over a hundred incidents per week," Cortright said.
 
But what the department lacked in resources, they began to make up for in strategy. Cortright said the department switched tactics, focusing on what they call 'proactive policing.' The department holds an Accountability Information Management (AIM) meeting every Tuesday where Patrol and Investigations share information on who to focus on, and receive information from Crime Analysis on trends. Then the department sends police to target criminal hot spots.
 
"We've been able to see successes, we've been able to arrest people right away and the crime level drop," Cortright said. "I truly believe that t\he Spokane Police Department is using our resources as efficiently as possible to keep Spokane safe. Even without our property crimes detectives, by adding PACT, we've strengthened our ability to capture suspects and get them off the street."
 
While police are working hard to keep that crime rate down, police still hope the property crimes unit will be restored to give people the peace of mind they expect.
 
"We do need a property crimes investigations unit," Cortright said. "It's the jelly to the peanut butter. They compliment each other but you can still live off of the peanut butter sandwich and that's what we've been doing."

Even with the increases for the second half of the year, Cortright said the Spokane Police Department did not see an overall increase in property crimes for the entire year since property crimes were below average for the first half of 2011. Spokane Police launched its Patrol Anti-Crime Team (PACT) last January, which had an immediate effect. Cortright said police continue to work with Spokane Police's Targeted Crimes Unit (TCU), which still investigates property crimes, but focuses on identified crime series and repeat offenders.

According to Cortright, TCU is the recipient of a Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority (WATPA) grant, so the team focuses primarily on vehicle theft. The result between TCU and PACT created an 11.5% decrease in vehicle theft from 2010.

"I think these two units, along with Patrol at large, are doing the right activities to arrest prolific offenders that cause a greater proportion of property crime," she continued. "I believe that if we had not had to eliminate the general Property Crimes Unit, we would have continued to see a decrease in property crimes for the second half of 2011.

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