Nov 8, 2023 - News

Washington's violent crime rate rises, nearing national rate

Data: FBI; Note: 2021 data was removed and estimated due to a low number of agencies reporting that year; Chart: Axios Visuals

Washington state's violent crime rate is no longer far below the national rate, as it was for most of the past four decades, according to the latest FBI data.

Why it matters: Washington's violent crime rate was roughly 1% below the U.S. rate in 2022, per the FBI. That's a big shift from 2012, when the state's rate was about 23% below the U.S. rate, and 1985, when it was about 24% below.

Driving the news: There were 375.6 reported violent crimes for every 100,000 people in Washington last year, compared to 380.7 violent crimes per 100,000 people nationally, according to the FBI's data.

Yes, but: While Washington's violent crime rate has gone up in the past decade, it was still about 12% lower last year than it was in 1985, and far below the peak levels reached in the early to mid-1990s.

Context: The FBI data includes only reported crimes. Many incidents go unreported, but it's impossible to accurately calculate that reporting gap.

  • Violent crimes include murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

Between the lines: It's not fully clear what has caused Washington's violent crime rate to rise while the national rate has been trending down.

  • In July, the Washington Association of Police Chiefs and Sheriffs identified low police staffing as a major concern statewide.
  • Steve Strachan, WASPC's executive director, told reporters that there were about 1.4 police officers per 1,000 people in Washington last year, compared to about 2.3 officers per 1,000 people nationally.
  • According to the group, which gathers statistics from local police agencies around the state, police staffing in Washington last year was lower than it was in 1994, when the state experienced a record-high number of homicides.

Zoom in: Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who chairs the council's public safety committee, said most violent crimes have been decreasing this year in Seattle, as reflected in mid-year crime data.

  • But murders have remained at high levels, with the number of homicides this year — 57 as of September — potentially on track to surpass the city record of 69, set in 1994.
  • Of note: Accounting for population increases, Seattle's murder rate per 1,000 people this year will likely still be lower than it was in 1994, when the city had about 230,000 fewer residents.

What they're saying: "Any potential increase in serious crime is a matter of great concern, which I am following closely as we prepare for the legislative session," said state Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), the chair of the state Senate Law & Justice Committee, in an emailed statement to Axios.

What's next: A state House committee is planning to hold a Dec. 5 work session to discuss crime trends in Washington.

  • Lawmakers return to Olympia for a new legislative session in January.
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