Is Port Orchard ‘safe’? It depends on who you ask

National Council for Home Safety and Security says city ranks low in study; police chief has doubts

By Mike De Felice

Special to Kitsap Daily News

PORT ORCHARD — A recent listing of Washington’s safest cities published in the Seattle Times pegged Port Orchard as underperforming in the survey, well behind other West Sound cities such as Oak Harbor and Bainbridge Island.

The list in question was compiled by the National Council for Home Safety and Security (NCHSS), a national trade association of security companies, using FBI crime statistics to generate the so-called “safest” and “less safe” cities. The group says its mission is to promote public knowledge about home safety and security, according to its website, which also advertises home security services.

In the study of the safest cities in Washington state, Port Orchard scored in the bottom quarter. Of 73 cities on the list, Port Orchard ranked 63 among Washington’s safest towns. Oak Harbor was ranked as the safest town.

But as is often the case with similar surveys created by business entities, there’s more to it — or less, depending on your view — than what appears at first glance.

Port Orchard Police Chief Matt Brown ranks himself as somewhat dubious about the report. He said the crime rate in Port Orchard is dropping and anecdotal evidence supports the notion that the city is a safe place to live.

“Our crime rate is down 4 percent,” Brown said. “I don’t think Port Orchard is an unsafe city. Safe is how people feel. I talk to a lot of people and they say they feel safe [here].”

Brown, who has headed the police department since July, said he has a number of issues with the report.

“It only lists 73 cities. Many communities were left out. Bremerton, for example, is not listed.” he said. Wikipedia, for instance, lists Washington as having roughly 300 cities.

“To do such a list right, all cities should be included,” he said. “That way, you are comparing apples to apples.”

The study also didn’t include cities that failed to submit a complete crime report to the FBI or had a population under 10,000.

The chief pointed out that the study was done by a for-profit group with its own commercial motives. He also questioned the data used in the study.

While the study used the latest FBI crime statistics from 2018, the chief said he would have preferred that crime statistics compiled by the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs have been used. Brown said he believes that organization’s data collection more accurately and realistically categorizes a municipality’s crime statistics.

Impacting Port Orchard’s crime statistics are data from the city’s two large “supercenter” department stores — Walmart and Fred Meyer — which contribute to petty crime and shoplifting theft data. The city also hosts Kitsap County’s jail and detention facilities, which admit and discharge individuals who often have contributed to those crime figures.

The NCHSS analysis of FBI data included statistics regarding violent and non-violent crimes and the size of a community’s police force in comparison to its population. Comparing crime statistics to the number of police officers in town led to a “police adequacy” number (total crimes versus the number of police employees), creating a safety score for each city.

The report listed Port Orchard as having a total of 700 crimes, or 67 violent crimes and 633 property crimes. It listed the city as having a rate of 49.06 crimes with 1.68 law enforcement officers per 1,000 residents.

Two board classifications of crime were included in the report. Violent crimes consist of murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Property crimes were defined as theft offenses, such as burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft and arson. Both types of crimes were combined in the statistics.

According to the organization’s accounting, the “safest” towns in the state were:

1 — Oak Harbor, the largest city on Whidbey Island with a population of 23,000, posting a crime rate of 7.97 per 1,000 residents;

2 — West Richland, Benton County in south-central Washington, which recorded 11 violent crimes in 2018;

3 — Camas, a city of approximately 24,000 on the state’s southern border near Portland;

4 — Snoqualmie, located 28 miles east of Seattle and famous for being featured in the cult TV series Twin Peaks;

5 — Bainbridge Island, the second-largest city in Kitsap County, had a crime rate of 10.79 per 1,000 residents.

The five cities scoring at the bottom of the study were Puyallup, followed by Tacoma, Shelton and Spokane. Last on the list was Tukwila, with a crime rate of 174.93 per 1,000 residents.