Police Chief Provides Quarterly Public Safety Update
Statistics from Bainbridge Island Police Department’s most recent report show that many of the types of crime rates on Bainbridge Island in 2022 rebounded to historic averages, and are generally much in line with the numbers seen prior to the pandemic back in 2018 and 2019, though there are definitely some areas of concern when it comes to property crime.
While a return to historic levels of crime is not exactly good news, in almost all areas, the trend is far from spiraling out of control when it comes from crimes against people, but more so when it comes to property crime. Even that needs to be evaluated with a wider lens, Bainbridge Island Police Chief Joseph Clark said in his update to City Council Members at their Regular Business Meeting Feb. 28, noting that auto thefts are up about 92% over the entire state (and partly attributed to certain Kia and Hyundai models being publicly revealed to have very few anti-theft protections).
Perhaps the (somewhat) good news is that some of this crime can be avoided by owner action, Clark indicated. In short, residents, businesses and local organizations should take a moment to be more aware, to take some simple precautions and take responsible steps to avoid making themselves and/or their property a target.
To help businesses in particular, the Chamber and the Police Department will be hosting a community workshop on April 5, generally focusing on best security practices across the community. At that event, community members can talk to both Chief Clark, and Zach Burnham, the BIPD’s Community Resource Officer – who can act as a liaison with the business community and help provide location-based security reviews and individualized guidance.
What Is Happening?
During the February 28 City Council Meeting, Chief Clark presented a summary of local and state-wide crime statistics going back 5 years, from 2018 to 2022.
Crimes against people dipped during the pandemic to 90 and 63 incidents in 2020 and 2021 respectively, while in 2022, 127 incidents were reported, the same number as in 2018. Last year, those 127 incidents included 11 reports of sexual assault (9%), 68 reports of physical assaults (53%), and 48 reports were regarding intimidation, harassment, or a violation of protection orders (38%).
Crimes against property tells a different story however, with 2018, 2019 and 2021 averaging about 340 incidents a year. However, that jumped 614 incidents reported in 2020 and 562 incidents reported in 2022. Looking at 2021 and 2022, however, property crime jumped 70% on the island. Included in this rise are both the business burglaries – of which about a half dozen occurred throughout the island last year in opportunistic quick, smash & grabs, and the uptick in car thefts. Much of the change can be attributed to the very-public announcements restricting the police’s ability to pursue suspected perpetrators – not that it constituted a very big alteration of operating practice, but more that it became a well-known loophole in the justice system for well-organized gangs of career criminals.
Looking at the 562 reports in 2022, the police chief said:
- 53% of all reports are property theft like mail theft, car prowls, catalytic converter, or bike thefts
- 22% was property damage reports, often stemming from the reports of actual theft
- 9% of all reports were fraud
- 10% were burglaries, including 3 reports of business burglaries in Winslow and several others at various business districts and businesses around the island in the last year.
- About 6% were car thefts on the island.
“That is a significant change across Washington,” Clark said. “Since 2019, auto theft has spiked 92%. These trends are happening across the state and we’re not immune here.”
On the traffic side of things, the report outlines some good news for driving habits and for drivers.
Traffic collisions and impaired driving are still lower than pre-pandemic levels. In 2022 there were 154 traffic collisions reported and 22 Driving Under the Influence (DUI) arrests by BIPD, whereas in 2018 there were 230 traffic collisions and 65 DUI arrests.
General traffic stops and citations are also far below pre-pandemic levels. In 2018, BIPD made 4,073 traffic stops and issued 663 citations; those numbers continued to decline from 2019 onward. In 2022, BIPD made 1,125 traffic stops and only issued 254 citations, up slightly from 2020 and 2021 where about 170 citations were issued in each year.
That all being said, the department is stepping up traffic stops, educational information, and citation efforts as needed to enforce the new speed limits which are going into effect throughout the island in coming months. See our article here on the upcoming Bainbridge Island speed limit reductions.
Clark said he did also look at the traffic stops and citation data for 2023 so far – BIPD has made 441 traffic stops and issued 98 citations since the new year.
In their comments, city council members asked a variety of questions of Chief Clark around Bias-Based Policing Analysis. The department tracks information and incident information closely, particularly as it relates to arrests and citations, use of force incidents, complaint reviews and the demographic makeup of those involved, as well as whether they are residents or nonresidents. Income levels are not among the data requested nor tracked by the department.
Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos asked Chief Clark for more specific data around domestic violence incidents on-island in future reports, while Clark did share specific information around the use of the department’s Health Navigator Officer after Mayor Brenda Fantroy-Johnson inquired.
In 2022, there were 269 referrals made to the Community Health Navigator, Clark said. The breakdown of referrals was 194 from the police department’s officers who encountered someone who was seeking services, 38 from the school district, and 37 from community members making direct contact with the navigator. Most referrals were for behavioral health services, followed by those seeking court resources.
Why Are We Talking About This ?
Head to the newspaper or social media posts on island-wide groups or to our newsletter and you’re bound to see news of property crime – burglary and auto theft on the island.
During the pandemic some of these crimes – particularly those against property, which are often opportunistic – did dwindle as people were more often home.
But as the pandemic ebbed and restrictions ended, people began moving about more freely again creating openings for opportunistic crime to rise and meet its island-wide historic averages seen in 2018 and 2019. On top of that trend came the rise of what has come to be known as ‘Criminal Tourism’:
“Crime is coming to us from other areas. We’re recovering property and seeing debit and credit cards used as far away as Tacoma,” Clark said. “We found that people are operating in groups, like the incident at Island Church that was reported in the local paper. It was actually a group of individuals that came to that parking lot – several cars were ransacked, two cars were stolen and then there was a related burglary.
“These are crimes of opportunity, most occur in just a few minutes and leave little evidence behind to identify those responsible.”
The BIPD is working diligently to solve these crimes, he added. Sharing information and coordinating with other departments and partners across the county has now proven successful in both recovering stolen property and helping to apprehend some of the thieves, especially those who are repeat offenders.
Beyond Bainbridge, Bob Ferguson, the state Attorney General has formed an organized crime task force, with the goal of reducing what has been a $3 billion problem in Washington – night-time thefts from businesses, while several bills still working through the 2023 legislative session are aimed at greatly increasing the penalties for being part of a large-scale criminal organization, for recruiting those in crisis (with drug, mental health, and personal challenges clouding their judgement), and for successive repeat offenses. Six bills were also introduced aimed at increasing the local police and county sheriff’s ability to pursue suspected criminals, but with the public safety concerns associated with those measures, a cautious approach seems the most likely outcome this year, with a path of studies before actions preferred by the current legislature.
What Can You Do?
While not all crime reported in the most recent report can be avoided, some of it can be by taking a few extra steps and time to safeguard your property and possessions.
Help yourself and the BIPD by remembering these simple tips:
- Remove your keys from your vehicle.
- Lock your vehicle.
- Remove and/or hide your valuables in your car.
- For older cars, anti-theft devices, like the old-style steering wheel locks are great protection. Newer cars are generally harder to steal because of technology but they’re still not immune.
- Pick up your mail daily and remember to hold your mail when you go out of town, especially if your mailbox is in a group with your neighbors, offering a greater target
- Check your porch and other delivery areas daily.
Following the burglaries at businesses across Bainbridge over the past 12 months, the Chamber also recommends:
- Reviewing your business insurance.
- Reviewing your location security procedures, especially with new staff.
- Testing your security system and security measures.
- In particular, test and confirm that motion-activated cameras are all up-to-date and in full working order.
“Reducing that opportunity,” Clark said of these types of crimes, “is the best first step to prevention – Not only will this save you time and energy, but it will preserve our department’s resources as well.
Chief Clark and Community Resource Officer Burnham will be making themselves available to the Bainbridge business community at a special Chamber Workshop at 9am on Wednesday April 5 in the BIMA Auditorium, and will follow up that group session with individualized guidance for Island business locations.
- Public Safety Quarterly Report – Bainbridge Island Police Department
- 25 Helpful Tips to Improve Security at Your Business – Small Business Trends