Chief Brown: PO has most crime in Kitsap County

For the second-straight year, Port Orchard has earned the dubious distinction of having the highest crime rate among Kitsap County cities, the annual Crime in Washington report by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs says.

“It’s certainly disappointing,” police chief Matt Brown said. “I know how hard the men and women of this department work. It’s frustrating to see that with as much energy they put into law enforcement in this city that it remains highest in the county.”

Robbery, burglary and theft including cars climbed from 2021 to 2022, the report says.

The rate is determined by the number of crimes per 1,000 people. Port Orchard’s rate is 107.5, up from 93.3 last year. To compare, Bainbridge Island is at 29.4; the sheriff’s office 47.8; Poulsbo, 62.5; and Bremerton 102.1. Seattle’s rate is 97.3.

The total number of crimes reported in Port Orchard increased from 1,423 to 1,763, nearly a 24% increase. Robberies rose from 14 to 17. Burglaries increased from 108 to 137. General theft, including shoplifting and property, jumped from 490 to 640. Motor vehicle thefts rose 57.4%, with 129 in 2021 and 203 in 2022.

Brown, as Sheriff John Gese pointed out in the accompanying story, believes a factor is tied to the inability of law enforcement to chase someone driving a stolen car.

There was good news when it came to assaults. Aggravated, or serious assaults, inched down from 44 to 40. Misdemeanor assaults also declined 9.1%.

Port Orchard had no murder or manslaughter incidents last year. Overall, the county had a low number of murders – four in sheriff’s office cases and one in Bremerton. Statewide there were a record-high number of murders with 394 in 2022, an increase of 16.6% from the previous year.

Several factors contributed to the city’s higher crime numbers, Brown said. Staffing challenges is one. Like many agencies, Port Orchard police has had trouble attracting candidates to apply for jobs.

The department’s number of patrol officers is down 30%, Brown said. The POPD has 25 positions – two of which are administrative and 3 in the investigations unit, leaving 20 spots for cops on the beat. Of those, the department is down six officers. New hirers are expected to fill two of those positions once they complete training.

“When we are down that many positions, it takes longer for us to get to people who are calling 911 asking for help. Traditionally, in this community, the workload was low enough that if you called you received an immediate response. That simply isn’t the case anymore. That’s not to say we are not going to respond, but if it’s not related to a life safety issue it may take us a little bit longer,” Brown said.

A backlog in the criminal justice system is another factor impacting crime rate numbers, said Brown, who believes the logjam appears to be preventing some people from being held accountable for their misconduct. “Coming out of COVID there are a large volume of cases that arose during the pandemic that still need to be adjudicated,” he said. In some instances, prolific offenders are still able to continue to commit crimes without facing justice, he said.

The success of the city’s retail outlets is another contributing factor behind crime numbers, he said. “We have a lot of big box stores. Our businesses are doing very, very well and that certainly attracts some of the criminal element that want to come victimize businesses, with shoplifts and thefts,” he said.

The growing population of Port Orchard is another element impacting local crime, the chief pointed out. The city’s population grew nearly 3% between 2021-22. “As we grow and we bring more people in, I think that changes the community. It’s not just the people who have lived here forever and will continue to live here. Our demographics are changing. That always bring positives and some negatives.”

Looking ahead, Brown is optimistic but believes the long-term solution involves more than police action. “I’m hoping that we will see some trending downward next year, but I think the biggest takeaway is to remember the community still has to make changes itself. It can’t just rely on law enforcement to reduce the crime rate,” Brown said.

“We need to look at, how do we address poverty, education and inequities. To say that law enforcement is the sole entity that is responsible for community and social problems – I don’t think is adequate. It’s a simplistic way of looking at it.”