Law enforcement agencies across Washington state are grappling with a surge in violent crime while also dealing with recruitment and retention woes.
According to a report from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) that analyzed data across all law enforcement agencies in the state, violent crime has increased by 12.3% since 2021.
Indeed, Tacoma and Pierce County showed a year-on-year increase in both homicides and robberies, while King County data revealed twice as many murders from the year before.
Homicides are particularly worrying for state law enforcement. In 2021, Washington recorded 325 murders — a 6% increase.
Steve Strachan, the executive director of WASPC, blames the increase in homicides partly on a shortage of police officers. In fact, the number of police officers in the state is the lowest it has been in 40 years.
The WASPC report noted that 495 officers either retired or quit last year, which is 4.4% more than in 2020.
In Seattle last year, police even called the exodus of police officers a “staffing crisis.”
Strachan said the main reason for officers leaving is a mixture of exhaustion and frustration. “What we’re seeing at some agencies around the state is the level of frustration — we’ll call it burnout — that’s resulting from the inability to provide justice for victims,” he explained. “When they can’t do that, they leave. And as more officers leave, it turns into a vicious cycle and makes the problems worse.”
Strachan said that a lack of resources for officers who need help, as well as police reform laws that have changed the nature of the job, have also contributed to the burnout.
Strachan said that getting more officers on the streets is necessary to prevent unnecessary casualties of violence, such as the case of a 10-year-old girl in Tacoma who was shot and killed on July 16 from a stray bullet while sleeping in her bed.
“I would love nothing more than next year when we’re doing this again to say we had a net increase in officers,” Strachan said. “That good policing is supported by everyone.”
Governor Jay Inslee has heeded the calls. He announced on July 20 that he plans to increase police recruitment in the state.
“I think it is important that we have good, well-trained, accountable police officers … this defund the police movement, I don’t agree with it,” Inslee said at a press conference.