By Dr. Kelley Cullen
Violent crimes, by their very nature, are much more likely to garner attention in the news than property crimes, possibly resulting in public perception that there is more crime in a given area than the data purport. This is understandable because violence is scary. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it can scare people out of participating in neighborhood activities, limit business growth and prosperity, strain education, justice and medical systems and slow community progress.
But the good news for the Tri Cities is that overall violent crime rates have fallen since 1995. Although there has been a slight uptick in the past five years, the violent crime rate per 1,000 residents remains below both the state and national averages.
When communities experience population growth – and the Tri Cities have been booming with new residents – local law enforcement often finds themselves busier with crime-related incidents. However, this increase in the number of crimes should not be confused with the crime rate per 1,000 residents, which is adjusted for population. Benton Franklin Trends 8.1.3 Total Violent Crimes & Violent Crimes Per 1,000 Residents presents data on the violent crimes of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder from the FBI’s Unified Crime Report (UCR) for Benton & Franklin Counties as well as the cities of Kennewick, Pasco & Richland. Data for the State of Washington and the US are also provided as benchmarks.
Since 1995, the violent crime rate for the combined counties of Benton & Franklin has fallen from 3.7 to 2.5 crimes per 1,000 residents. The current violent crime rate is below both the state (3.4) and the nation (4.0). Additionally, there is a very low incidence of murders that has remained essentially unchanged since 1995.
However, over just the last five years, the violent crime rate has ticked upwards from its low in 2015 of only 1.9 violent crimes per 1,000 residents to the current rate of 2.5. And the reason for this is that aggravated assaults are on the rise again after falling between 2011 and 2015. Additionally, robberies are at a 25-year high and the number of rapes has increased 67% in the last five years.
As one might suspect, there are differences in rates across the various jurisdictions of the Tri Cities. Benton County, for example, originally had a violent crime rate that was below the combined county average but is now above the combined county average. In Benton County, aggravated assaults are up nearly 30% in the last five years and the number of rapes jumped nearly 50% from 2020 to 2021. The City of Richland has not seen much change in the overall violent crime rate itself, but since 2016, total aggravated assaults have increased over 50% and the total number of rapes have increased.
Franklin County, on the other hand, has seen the greatest drop in the violent crime rate, in part due to a dramatic decrease in Pasco from 8.1 violent crimes per 1,000 residents in 1995 to 2.5 in 2021. Aggravated assaults across the county have increased at a slower rate than in Benton County. In Pasco, although aggravated assault levels have risen since 2017, they are still below levels experienced between 2009-2012.
The Crime Data Explorer (CDE) at the FBI provides more summary details about the level of violent crimes in our communities. One aspect of violent crimes that is particularly scary is the use of firearms. Benton Franklin Trends 8.1.4 Total & Share of Violent Crimes Using a Firearm provides data about the prevalence of firearms in violent crimes in the Tri Cities. In 2021, one third of all violent crimes involved a handgun. This is higher than the state average of 28%.
The FBI’s CDE also provides summary characteristics of offenders and victims. For example, in Benton County, over 60% of offenders were younger than 40 years of age – in fact, 40% were between 20-29 years old. A likely surprise is that one in four victims was between 10-19 years old. But not so surprising is that 85% of the time, the offender was known to the victim.
In the City of Pasco, 80% of the offenders were under the age of 40, with 65% being between 20-39. Sadly, 15% of the victims of violent crime were children 0-9, and another 20% of the victims were teenagers (10-19). In Pasco, 65% of the time the offender was known to the victim.
Violent crimes not only scar the individuals involved both physically and emotionally, but can carry negative impacts on a community and its economy. And perceived crime can deter new neighbors from moving in, removing further catalysts for growth. Although the Tri Cities currently enjoys a below-average rate of violent crimes compared to the state and the nation, vigilance should still be paid to thwarting the recent upward trends, especially in aggravated assaults and rapes, in order to provide more security to current and future residents.