During Tuesday’s (Jan. 19, 2021) Kent City Council meeting, Police Chief Rafael Padilla said it is “a little bit of open season” for some crimes in Kent.
With exceptions in a few categories, crime increased across the board in Kent from 2019 to 2020, and Padilla said the increase can be partially attributed to COVID-19.
Court back up, lack of incarceration partly to blame
Padilla said the pandemic has led to a backup in court cases where “criminals basically take advantage of that because they know it will be a year or two before they go to court for any of their crimes.”
“Hopefully once COVID has passed, we can get back to holding people a little more accountable,” Padilla said. “It’s going to be very interesting to see how we work through the thousands and thousands of cases that are awaiting trial.”
Padilla said part of the issue is also that in King County superior court, vehicle theft is considered a property crime. This means those who Kent police arrest for vehicle theft are not held in jail, and some individuals are released right after booking, Padilla said.
Reported vehicle prowls were up 16%, while vehicle thefts were up 15% and stolen vehicle recoveries were up 16% in Kent last year. Padilla said the increase in vehicle prowls is notable because “we were high prior.”
“What we see with our auto thieves and some of our property crimes, is they’re prolific,” Padilla said.
Increase in verified shootings
While homicides with a firearm remained steady with four in 2020, there was a significant increase in verified shootings overall. The total number of verified shootings was 117 in 2020 compared to 76 in 2019. Verified shootings with resulted in injury nearly doubled, with 33 in 2020 compared to 17 in 2019.
Thirty-two verified shootings resulted in property damage in 2020, which was an increase of seven. And the number of shots fired without a reported homicide, injury or property damage increased by 18, with 48 in 2020.
“Some of it is we’re seeing a very unnerving trend in our demographic from 18 to 25, and some younger are more and more involved in using firearms to commit violence,” Padilla said.
Padilla said individuals who fire a gun or commit violent crimes are still being held in jail, despite the pandemic.
The increase in crime is not unique to Kent, Padilla said, as the numbers are “very similar for the south King County and Seattle area.”
Some crime decreased, though not in all categories
Last year burglaries dropped by 7% last year, while robberies dropped by 26% compared to the year prior.
Padilla attributed these decreases to the ongoing pandemic, saying that with more people at home there are fewer opportunities for crime to be committed. Padilla added that the numbers are “still not great” in these categories.
Not all burglary was down in 2020, as commercial burglaries increased by 29%. The rise in commercial burglaries is connected to the pandemic according to Padilla, saying that there are “a lot of businesses that are not as well-populated” in the valley.