WA's latest report shows decline in overall crime rate, but youth violence persists

The latest crime rate report in Washington shows overall crime declined in 2023, but rates in some areas still exceeded pre-pandemic levels. 

The report, published on Tuesday, was compiled by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC).

The annual report collected data from 225 state, county, municipal and tribal agencies. 

WASPC said, "The report shows that there were 376 murders in 2023, a decrease of 5.8% over 2022, but an 87% increase since 2019. Overall, violent crime fell 5.5% and property crime fell 11.9%, but hate crimes increased 6% and vehicle theft increased by 5.4%. Washington State has seen an increase of vehicle thefts of 112% since 2019. The report also shows more juveniles were involved in crimes."  

Steve Strachan, executive director of WASPC, said the rise in crimes committed by juveniles is especially concerning.

"The issue of juvenile crime, I think, is going to be a really substantial issue for this year, and for the next couple of years," said Strachan. "The solution, I think, is going to be a complex one that is going to require us to get out of our corners a little bit and understand juveniles do need to be held accountable, when necessary, 100%. At the same time, nobody wants juveniles to be permanently labeled. That’s that balance we have to strike, but it’s going to be really challenging."

The 2023 crime rate report showed more than 20% of people arrested for vehicle theft were juveniles, an increase of 24% since 2022. 

"Being able to question and speak to juveniles as suspects or witnesses is a huge issue. I think it has had a negative effect on juvenile crime," said Strachan. 

Crimes committed by teenagers have already taken a toll on young people and their loved ones in 2024. This year’s violence resulted in the loss of 13-year-old Jayda Woods-Johnson, an innocent bystander who was shot and killed at a mall in Lynnwood by a 16-year-old suspect. And Amaar Murphy-Paine, a 17-year-old student-athlete, was shot and killed while trying to break up a fight on campus at Garfield High School in Seattle.


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Strachan said he fears violence among young people will get worse statewide.

"As we see the juvenile involvement in violent crime go up, we’re going to need to respond to this much more proactively than we are so far," said the WASPC executive director.

A proactive response, however, is a challenge for law enforcement in the state. The crime rate report showed Washington again ranked 51st out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for the lowest number of officers per thousand residents. Strachan explained the per capita rate of law enforcement officers fell to 1.35 per thousand statewide, which is the lowest per capita rate recorded. The national average per capita rate is 2.31.

Strachan said the total number of commissioned officers statewide increased by 94 for a total of 10,760, which shows some progress.

"We are gaining more than we’re losing, but I can’t put too fine of a point on this. We are not even really treading water because with the increase in population of our state, the per capita staffing actually went down again," said Strachan.

The executive director said the lack of officers has a direct impact on public safety, like reactive responses to incidents, and less follow-up on investigations.

"This isn’t just a matter of let’s have more police officers. The reason that more police officers matter is we need to provide justice for all victims. And the fewer officers we have, the less ability there is to provide justice for victims," said Strachan.

WASPC credits continued efforts and policy changes at the local and state levels to help support law enforcement staffing. Strachan said answers in addressing youth violence also needs more attention.

"We have legislators on both sides of the aisle that clearly see that. They want to ensure that juveniles know about their rights. I think everybody agrees on that. But I fully expect that will be changed on the next session because I think everyone starts to understand that it’s a huge issue," said Strachan.

WASPC said hate crimes increased by six percent and the highest frequency of hate crimes based on certain victim demographics were: 

  • Race: Anti-Black/African American
  • Religion: Anti-Jewish
  • Disability: Anti-Mental Disability
  • Gender/Gender Identity: Anti-Transgender
  • Sexual Orientation: Anti-LGBTQ

Strachan said hate crimes involving aggravated assault rose 11% in 2023 compared to the previous year. He explained the FBI definition of aggravated assault is an "unlawful attack using a dangerous weapon or displays in a threatening manner where the victim suffers obvious severe bodily injury or risk and has things like broken bones, loss of teeth, possible internal injury, severe lacerations or loss of consciousness."

"These are severe assaults. And we had 79 of those last year related to hate crime in the state of Washington. And that should be a number that should be very concerning to us and should point to the fact that we have to do even more to combat hate crime," said Strachan.

Washington has also seen an increase in vehicle thefts of 112% since 2019.

"This is one that is not going down. We’ve seen substantial increases since 2019, and it went up again this year. A lot of issues related this. We’ve talked about the last few years— changes in use of force standards, changes in police staffing, changes in pursuit restrictions," said Strachan. "Most of the vehicles that are stolen in our state are older vehicles. They’re vehicles belonging to people who can least afford being a victim of crime in terms of vehicle theft. And it can turn their life upside down. So, this is a really concerning number for all of us."

The report overall showed the crime rate in Washington declined in some areas. However, Strachan said it’s not enough.

"We are seeing some good numbers in terms of some decreases in crime in our state. That is a good thing no matter what. It is not anywhere near pre-pandemic levels, it’s nowhere near a 50-year low. We have much more work to do," said Strachan.

WSAPC began publishing crime rate reports in 1980. The 2023 report is approximately 600 pages long and covers multiple categories in extensive detail.


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