SEATTLE - Never has the level of violent crime been this high in Washington.
The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) has been collecting criminal data for the state since 1980. In its 43rd report, the numbers are alarming.
This latest report shows the number of people murdered in Washington has surged. Yet, the number of commissioned law enforcement continues to plummet.
It's common knowledge at this point—since the time of the pandemic, Washington has been hemorrhaging law enforcement. Washington has the lowest number of police officers per capita in the country. In regard to crime, it's not just homicide that's up. Robberies and vehicle theft are up as well.
Almost 400 people were murdered in the state last year alone.
"With that increase of 16.6% compared to 2021, compared to that all-time high of 394," said Steve Strachan, executive director of WASPC, "That is 96% more murders than we had in 2019."
We have never seen murder rates this high in Washington.
"This is not the same as every national trend," Strachan said. "It is not. I've sensed sometimes people, like—'Well, there's nothing we can do, it's a national trend, it's like this everywhere.' Well, the data's not reflecting that right now."
Strachan said this is something policymakers need to confront, along with individual communities.
He also compares the current data to numbers back in 1994, a time when gang violence was up, and numbers for murder and rape were surging.
"That correlation is an important one, and to think about the fact that there were 2,000 more officers and deputies on the street, if we still had the same relatively low per-capita number that we had in 1994," Strachan said.
In 2021, Washington lost almost 500 officers and deputies. The officers per capita number fell to the lowest on record, and the lowest in the country. There were no improvements in 2022, with the state losing another 70 officers.
Another statistic of concern, according to this report—the number of violent incidents towards officers and deputies has risen 20% since last year, at 2,375 assaults.
"That is a number that is wholly unacceptable," Strachan said. "We have to find a way to change that. It shakes me to the core that that number of officers was assaulted, which really makes up almost a quarter of the officers in our state."
If Washington had the national average of officers-to-population, we would have more than 7,000 officers commissioned than we do right now.