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Perception vs. reality in Pierce County’s crime trends

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on May 16, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
May 16, 2012 5:03 pm

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

When it comes to violent crime, appearances can deceive.

Sometimes it feels as if every third or fourth infamous murder in the entire nation has a Pierce County connection.

Most recent is what may be the single worst U.S. war atrocity since Vietnam – the slaughter of 17 villagers in Afghanistan. It happened on the other side of the world, but the accused is a Lake Tapps man, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

Before that came Josh Powell’s immolation of himself and his two sons. Before that, Maurice Clemmons’ murder of four Lakewood police officers. Before that, David Brame; there can’t be many police chiefs of mid-sized American cities who’ve killed their wives and committed suicide.

Before that, Beltway Sniper John Allen Muhammad. All the way back to Tacoma native Ted Bundy.

Such nation-shocking killings – combined with the less spectacular homicides, home invasions, robberies and assaults – can leave the impression of a crescendo of crime.

Diminuendo is more like it, looking at the actual statistics.

Every year about this time, The Washington State Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs releases an immense summary of crimes in Washington’s cities and across the state.

Comparatively, Tacoma and Pierce County never come off looking good in these reports.

There’s nothing in the breezes off Commencement Bay that breed violent behavior. The problem is that the state Department of Corrections and Department of Social and Health Services have long released felons to halfway houses and convict-friendly landlords in this area, even if they originally came from elsewhere. One result has been a crime rate far higher than King County’s or Snohomish County’s.

Still, look at the trends: The numbers tell a much better story. Although many citizens across the country feel besieged by menace, crime rates in Pierce County and Tacoma have actually been in a long, steady decline – with an anomalous spike here and there – for many years.

The association’s new report shows that trend holding. In Tacoma, crime fell in all but one category between 2010 and 2011. Arson saw a spike, but there were fewer murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries and other property crimes.

Some of this can be credited to good police work and suppression of drug-dealing street gangs. The demographic shrinkage of the crime-prone cohort – young males – has been an major underlying factor.

Bottom line: America’s streets are getting safer, not meaner – and that’s as true in Pierce County as anywhere else.

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