The upsurge in criminal activity largely centers on property crimes. Motor vehicle thefts, burglaries, shoplifting and property destruction crimes are all up this year, says Port Orchard Police Chief Matt Brown. (File photo)

The upsurge in criminal activity largely centers on property crimes. Motor vehicle thefts, burglaries, shoplifting and property destruction crimes are all up this year, says Port Orchard Police Chief Matt Brown. (File photo)

Property crimes are increasing in Port Orchard

… but not everyone is reporting them to police, chief says

  • Monday, December 6, 2021 9:51pm
  • News

By Mike De Felice

Special to Kitsap Daily News

PORT ORCHARD – The likelihood of a car being stolen in Port Orchard has more than doubled than from past years, and other types of property crimes have also seen a recent surge, according to city police chief Matt Brown.

As property crimes have risen, officials from the Port Orchard Police Department are concerned that not all criminal behavior is being reported by those who have been victimized.

“There has been an increase in crime and we are working to resolve it,” Brown said.

Chief Matt Brown (Port Orchard Police Department photo)

Chief Matt Brown (Port Orchard Police Department photo)

The upsurge in criminal activity largely centers on property crimes. Motor vehicle thefts, burglaries, shoplifting and property destruction crimes are all up this year, he added.

“What I’m hearing a lot from the community right now is more about the property crimes. People are worried about their cars being broken into and about burglaries,” Brown said.

Authorities do not have a clear explanation for the increase in crime.

“We need more data to understand why some things are happening, Brown said.

There have been suspicions by some that the increase is related to homelessness, Brown said, but he quickly added, “I would suspect that is not the case. I don’t think you can look at what we are seeing as an increase in homelessness and directly relate it to the increase in crime.

“You can’t just see a homeless person on the side of the road, somebody who is struggling with an unknown myriad of issues, and say that person is a criminal.”

Crime stats

To determine local crime trends, Brown compared the number of crimes reported this year (January through the end of November) to statistics from 2019. He didn’t include statistics from 2020 since a lot of routine activity was limited due to the pandemic. Instead, comparing criminal behavior from 2019 and 2021 was “comparing apples to apples” and was more illuminating, he said.

Motor vehicle thefts soared nearly 128% during the two time periods. Car thefts this year have already reached 98, compared to 43 in 2019. Shoplifting calls are up 19%. This year there were 88 incidents compared to 74 in 2019. Property destruction reports are up 43%. In 2019, there were 115 incidents compared to 2021 where there have been 164 incidents. Meanwhile, burglaries are up 18%, with 89 reported this year versus 75 in 2019.

Some non-property crimes have also been on the rise. Misdemeanor assaults are up 47%. In 2019 there were 155, compared to this year which had 169. Violation of no-contact orders rose 18%, from 62 in 2019 to 73 this year.

Meanwhile, a decrease was seen in some types of crimes. This year, there were fewer aggravated assaults by 35% while forgery/counterfeit reports went down 50%.

Reporting is vital

As property crimes have spiked, the police department stressed the importance for people to report criminal activity.

Brown said he understands there a number of reasons why a person does not report a crime, but failing to contact police hampers law enforcement. An example:

“You go out to your car in the morning after you left it unlocked and find that someone got in and stole all of your change. You might say, ‘I need to get to work. This really isn’t really that important. I’m not going to call the police.’ But what you don’t know is that 10 of your neighbors also had their cars prowled.

If no one calls in, police cannot fix a problem they don’t know about, he said.

“We need to have an accurate picture of what is really happening in our community. When we do, it allows us to come up with more accurate solutions,” the city’s top law enforcement official said.

There are two ways local crimes can be reported, Brown said. Calling 911 is the preferred method, particularly in circumstances when immediate respond is needed. A report can also be electronically submitted on the POPD’s website.

Staffing

The city police department is on the job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, yet staffing is down, the chief noted.

The force normally has 21 officers but is currently down by five. Three of those spots are filled but those individuals are required to undergo training before they hit the street. The two other spots — one for a detective — are unfilled.

POPD is actively doing interviews to fill the open positions, he said.

Legislative changes

The Port Orchard police chief attributes some of the recent increase in crime in the city to legislative changes out of Olympia that took effect in July.

An officer’s ability to conduct a high-speed chase has been restricted, Brown noted. Under new laws, pursuits are only permitted if an occupant of the vehicle is suspected of a serious crime such as murder, a sex crime or driving the under influence, but not a property crime like car theft, he said.

“We have a number of incidents every week where we attempt to stop someone, and they just don’t stop for us,” Brown said. “We had a stolen vehicle take off from us the other day. We don’t chase those anymore because the law has restricted vehicle pursuits. But that vehicle took off and crashed into several unoccupied cars.

“There is certainly a concern that people feel like they don’t have to stop for the police.”

Another new law now limits when an officer is able to use force to detain an individual. An officer has authority to detain, however, in order to use force to control the person, it is now required that law enforcement personnel have a higher level of belief that the person committed a crime.

Preventing crime

As police deal with an increase in property crimes, there are steps that citizens can take to reduce their chance of becoming a victim, Brown advised.

“We no longer live in a community where you can leave your house, car, and garage open all day. There are people who want to victimize you,” he said.

Those tips include:

  • Closing the garage door at night and having lighting around the house.
  • Locking the car and avoid leaving items visible on the seats, particularly Christmas presents, this time of year.

“In a lot of the vehicle prowls we have, people have left things out. These are crimes of opportunity. You don’t want to create an opportunity for you to be a victim,” the chief said.

While there has been an increase in crime in recent months, the police chief says there is no need for undue concern.

“The sky is not falling in Port Orchard. Property crimes are up. We are paying attention. We are doing the best we can with the staffing we have, but we still need people to call us because we need an accurate picture of what is going on in town so we can resolve it,” Brown said.

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