City’s crime rate stayed low in 2007

Kirkland’s below average crime rate stayed low in 2007, according to statistics released by the Kirkland Police Department.

Kirkland’s below average crime rate stayed low in 2007, according to statistics released by the Kirkland Police Department.

The department reported a less than 1 percent (0.4) increase over 2006 in the common types of violent and property offenses the FBI uses to track crime rates.

“We just have an extremely low crime rate in Kirkland,” Kirkland Police crime analyst Kristina Shull said.

In 2007, police responded to 24 robberies, 30 aggravated assault cases and 14 reports of rape, numbers that are all down from 2006. No homicides were recorded in 2007, a sharp contrast to 2006 when the city was rocked by a quadruple homicide in the Forbes Lake area and two other killings.

While the violent crime rate dropped 25 percent, Shull cautioned against reading too much into the decline.

“Our numbers are so small that just a few (violent) crimes can really increase or decrease our percentages,” she said. “(The 2006 homicides) were probably the greatest number we’ve ever had.”

The lower numbers of violent crimes were balanced by higher numbers of crimes against property. Kirkland saw a 6 percent increase in both larceny and burglary.

After hitting a plateau of 990 in 2001, thefts rose to 1,366 in 2007 with the rate of theft (estimated at 285 thefts per 10,000 residents) the only category that neared the state average. That number represents Kirkland’s highest level in a decade.

Local motorists, on the other hand, found fewer of their vehicles missing with only 181 motor vehicle thefts reported in 2007 as compared to 242 in 2006. Arson was also down from 20 reports to 12.

The city’s crime rate is based on the number of Uniform Crime Report (UCR) Part 1 offenses, a listing compiled by the FBI. Considered leading indicators of either violent or property crime, the FBI collects this limited data from eight categories on the state and local level to track national crime trends. The UCR statistics “allows for an apples to apples comparison” with other municipalities, Shull said.

In a comparison with other neighboring communities, Kirkland and the Eastside are generally low-crime areas, according to data available from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC).

Measured in the numbers of crimes per 10,000 residents in 2006, the cities of Bothell, Redmond, Kirkland and Bellevue all had a violent crime number of less than 20, while Seattle’s number was 72. The state average for 2006 was 34 violent crimes per 10,000 residents. Shull estimated that Kirkland’s violent crime rate in 2007 was less than half that at 14 per 10,000 residents.

Outside of UCR Part 1 offenses, one of the more visible priorities of the Kirkland police is their effort to prevent traffic collisions through enforcement of DUI laws. After a drop in DUI arrests in 2006, the number rebounded to 357 for 2007, reflecting results from previous years after Kirkland’s last DUI-related fatality in 2001.

Over the past five years, traffic collisions have held steady, averaging 876 reported accidents per year. Traffic safety is a priority at both the state and local level, with Washington State Patrol’s “Target Zero” plan aiming for no highway collision deaths by 2030.

Overall, Kirkland Police handled 37,587 incidents in 2007 and issued 11,073 citations for traffic, criminal and non-criminal violations — an increase of 853 from the previous year. The number of arrests also went up over 100 from the previous year, reaching 2,346 arrests in 2007.

Mayor Jim Lauinger and city council have long made a strong commitment to public safety in the past, approving a 2007 biannual police budget at $27,183,214. The current entitlement to the police represents an above-inflation 7.8 percent increase over the previous budget and allowed police to hire an additional four corrections officers to staff the city jail, as well as pay for technology upgrades, the new NORCOM regional dispatch system and fees associated with national accreditation.

But after a February budget update revealed the city’s sales-tax revenue is dropping, the department could face cutbacks.

The Kirkland Police Department currently employs 69 sworn officers, 36 civilians, one part-time employee and several volunteers. Police funding is the second largest expenditure from the city’s general fund at 25.2 percent of the total budget. The largest share is held by the department of public works.

A recent survey commissioned by the city in February reflected Kirkland’s low crime rate. In response to a question about how safe residents felt in Kirkland, nearly 9 in 10 said they felt “very safe” during the day and 8 in 10 felt at least “somewhat” secure at night.

“(Kirkland) is a safe place to walk at night,” Deputy Mayor Joan McBride said, “It’s a great place to raise a family. Crime is just not something I think about when I open my door.”

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