Even as overall crime rates decrease in Washington, property crime continues to heavily affect rural areas like the Key Peninsula.
According to the Pierce County Crime Data website, the total number of property crimes on the Key Peninsula has jumped 14 percent since last year, and property crimes make up about two-thirds of all reported crime on the KP.
Property crime encompasses any criminal offense where the primary target is a piece of property or an object, not a person; this includes arson, theft, vandalism and similar infractions. The leading categories are burglary and theft, especially theft from vehicles.
Property crime problems in Pierce County have led the Sheriff’s Department to create a special Property Crime Unit with four investigators and a supervisor. The unit focuses on larger-scale property crimes and tracking down specific repeat offenders.
Many Key Peninsula residents are intimately familiar with property crime from their own experiences or those of friends and family.
Jeffrey Tritt, a Key Peninsula homeowner for over 20 years, has had his boat stolen twice, his truck stolen once, and a 350-pound driftwood horse sculpture dragged out of his front yard. These kinds of problems haven’t been limited to his own home, either: Tritt has stumbled upon the aftermath of several burglaries in his neighborhood. “I know many victims of crime,” he said. “It’s polite cocktail conversation to talk about who got hit and how much they took.”
Tritt continues to hold the police in high regard. “They are overburdened and understaffed,” he said, echoing a sentiment expressed by many law enforcement officers and lawmakers, including Pierce County Councilman Derek Young. The region’s geography also creates problems for emergency services of all kinds and especially police; local officers may have to respond to areas as far apart as Fox Island and Longbranch.
Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Dan Wulick suggests that the best measure KP residents can take is to “limit your ability to become a victim. Even if you don’t have money for cameras or alarms, you can still do the basics.” Some simple suggestions include removing objects of value from vehicles, locking car and house doors, and keeping homes and outbuildings well lighted to increase visibility and deter prowlers.
Wulick also recommends connecting with neighborhood watch groups. “Neighborhood groups are doing a fantastic job,” he said. Communicating with neighbors will make it easier for them to identify suspicious people or unusual situations on your property or identify stolen property. “It’s old-school, but it works,” he said.
Since property crime often occurs despite preventative measures, Wulick suggests documenting serial numbers on big-ticket items like televisions, computers and firearms. This will make it easier for the police to find and confirm stolen property. Wulick also says that even if the crime is minor, reporting it can make a big difference. If a report of stolen property is logged, that property can be recovered even if the thief is arrested six months later. “It’s in there if we do find the guy,” Wulick said, also noting that small reports can be added to a criminal’s charges. “If you get the guys, it matters,” he said.
Some residents feel as though their reports of property crime go unnoticed, and they never see any tangible results. Even in this case, Wulick says that crime reports are worthwhile. “It’s the statistics that help us understand where there’s a problem,” he said. Statistics can help influence the location and type of police patrolling, but, “if nobody ever reports it, it never goes in our system.”
Wulick emphasized that deputies are working as hard as they possibly can. “The guys are out here because they want to be out here. These guys live out here, and they’re driven to make it a safer place,” he said.
Emergencies and in-progress crimes should always be called in to 911. Nonemergency crimes can be reported to the police at 253-798-4721 or online at www.co.pierce.wa.us