Washington law enforcement agencies report violent crime and vehicle thefts increased, drug arrests and number of officers decreased in 2021


Violent crimes and murders increased, while drug and fraud-related numbers decreased along with the number of commissioned officers in 2021, according to a report released last week by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC).

WASPC consists of more than 900 members from agencies around the state, including elected county sheriffs and 240 police chiefs, as well as representatives from the Washington State Patrol, the Washington Department of Corrections and representatives of several federal agencies.

“WASPC’s function is to provide specific materials and services to all law enforcement agencies in the state, members and non-members alike,” according to a news release.

The annual Crime in Washington report tracks crime and arrest data from contributing law enforcement agencies throughout Washington. The Crime in Washington 2021 report is compiled with data from 232 state, county, municipal, and tribal agencies and is designed to give residents, elected officials and law enforcement data-driven information about crime in their communities, according to a WASPC news release.

The full Crime in Washington 2021 report is available online at https://waspc.memberclicks.net/assets/2021%20CIW.pdf.

For reference, the total population for the state of Washington in 2021 was 7,772,506, compared to 7,656,066 in 2020, an increase of 116,440 residents, according to WASPC.

Increases from 2020

  • The report shows there were 325 murders in 2021, an increase of 5.9% over 2020, following a 47% increase the year before, according to WASPC.

“This is the highest number of murders recorded since WASPC began collecting this data in 1980,” the association said in a news release.

  • Violent crime overall increased 12.3%. Robbery increased 10% and aggravated assaults increased 15.4%, according to WASPC.
  • A total of 592 hate crime incidents were reported in 2021, an increase of 26% over 2020, according to WASPC.
  • Motor vehicle theft increased 27.3% in 2021, and theft of motor vehicle parts increased 100%.

Decreases from 2020

  • Identity theft dropped from 36,358 in 2020 to 7,704 in 2021, a 78.8% reduction. This drop was related to the spike in 2020 pandemic-related fraudulent claims to the state, according to WASPC.
  • There was a 60.9% drop in drug offenses and a 73.6% fewer arrests related to drug use. WASPC contributed that decline to the State Supreme Court’s ruling in the State v. Blake case. In that case, justices struck down Washington state’s drug possession law since it punished offenders regardless of whether or not they knew they had drugs on them. The decision was retroactive, meaning drug charges dating all the way back to the 1970s can now be re-evaluated.

The state Legislature approved a replacement drug possession law, which went into effect in June 2021, that criminalized possession of a controlled substance as a gross misdemeanor — not a Class C felony like it was under the original law — and prioritized behavioral health prevention, treatment and related services for individuals using or possessing controlled substances, counterfeit substances and legend drugs.

The legislation “significantly changed the ability to charge a criminal offense for personal possession of any drug, including heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine,” according to WASPC.

Fewer commissioned officers

The total number of commissioned officers statewide in 2021 was 10,736, a net loss of 495 from 11,231 in 2020, according to WASPC. This represents an overall 4.4% statewide reduction in staffing. With population increases, the number of officers per thousand residents fell from 1.47 to 1.38 officers per thousand in 2021, according to WASPC.

“This is the lowest per capita rate of officers since WASPC began tracking this data in 1980, and is the lowest rate in the nation,” according to WASPC, which said the national average per capita rate is 2.33 officers per thousand.

There were a total of 1,968 assaults on law enforcement officers in Washington in 2021, according to WASPC.