Decreasing Property Crimes in Walla Walla County Continues

by Scott Richter and Dr. Patrick Jones

Property crimes, compared to violent crimes, are typically less severe but are much more common. The U.S. as a whole has experienced declines in both violent crimes and property over the last two decades.

The causes of crime are complex. It’s even difficult to explain increases or decreases. While theories abound, each might explain a small part of the story, but each theory has their weaknesses too. Possibilities offered by a basic internet search include: increased economic growth and opportunity, decreased crack cocaine use, the high imprisonment rate in the U.S., advanced policing and investigative tools, legalized abortion, and removing lead from gasoline and household paint.  

While a decrease in property crimes is obviously moving the needle in the right direction, crimes can only be counted if law enforcement knows it occurred. Crimes do not need to be solved or result in an arrest or conviction Police typically learn of crimes two ways: through a citizen reporting it or discovering it on their own (personally witnessing, while investigating other crimes, for example).

While positive, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) Victimization Analysis Tool show us typically 2/3 of property crimes are not reported to authorities. It’s also estimated more than half of violent crimes are not reported.

Law enforcement agencies across the U.S. track crime statistics and annually report them to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI creates a variety of annual reports, one of which, the Unified Crime Report, is the source for this Trend. The UCR has two main sections: violent crimes and property crimes. Property crimes are much more common than violent crimes (murder, robbery, rape, aggravated assault).

Property crimes, the focus of this article, are defined by the UCR include:

  • Larceny / Theft, “the unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding away of property from the possession or constructive possession of another.”
  • Burglary, “the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft. To classify an offense as a burglary, the use of force to gain entry need not have occurred.”
  • Motor Vehicle Theft, “the theft or attempted theft of a motor vehicle.”

Arson is also considered a property crime, but the FBI doesn’t include it within the Property Crime totals “due to the varying degree” of how arson is reported across America.

Looking at the Property Crimes indicator on Walla Walla Trends, it’s quickly apparent property crimes are decreasing Walla Walla County, following suit with the state and U.S. 2018 represents the most recent data available and was released within the last month.  

More specifically, 2018 represents the lowest total number of property crimes occurring in Walla Walla County in the series (1,628), as well as the lowest rate per 1,000 residents (26.3).

Digging a little deeper, +we see the county started the series with the highest property crime rate per 1,000 residents at 65.3, compared to 55.3 in the state and 45.9 in the U.S. By 1998, the county rate dropped below the state for the first time in the series, and has remained so through 2018.

From the start of the series in 1995 to 2018, total property crimes in Walla Walla County have decreased from 3,480 to 1,628, or by 40.3%. More specifically:

  • Larceny / theft decreased from 2,701 to 1,291 (-52.2%).
  • Burglary decreased from 634 to 250 (-60.6%).
  • Motor vehicle thefts decreased from 145 to 87 (-40.0%).

More recently in Walla Walla County (from 2017 to 2018):

  • Larcenies / thefts decreased from 1,414 to 1,291 (-8.7%).
  • Burglaries increased from 238 to 250 (+5.0%).
  • Motor vehicle thefts decreased from 120 to 87 (-27.5%).

Walla Walla County is in a unique situation with the Washington State Penitentiary located within its boundaries. When crimes occur inside the prison, and are reported to outside agencies to investigate (typically a prosecutor), they are included in the Walla Walla County overall crime statistics.

Don Varner, Chief Civil Deputy with the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s office, said assaults (violent crimes) are the most common crime occurring in the prison reported to an outside agency.

Varner also said it’s not impossible to have a property crime reported out. Regardless if the crime was violent or property, crimes occurring inside the prison being reported to an outside agency, it’s tallied under the City of Walla Walla Police Department.

Law enforcement agencies in Walla Walla County included in this Trend are: the Walla Walla Sheriff’s Office and the City of Walla Walla Police Department. The City of College Place Police Department is included in previous years, but for 2018.  The most recent data for 2018 does not includeThe Washington State Patrol is not included. Neither are university / college police departments.

Additionally, only crimes known to police are included, meaning to be counted, crimes don’t need to be solved or result in an arrest or conviction. Police typically learn of crimes two ways: through a citizen reporting it or discovering it on their own (perhaps personally witnessing a crime or discovering new crimes while investigating other crimes).