Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla told the City Council that crime rates in town “are historically high” and that “we are in a sustained crime epidemic.”
From 2019 to 2021, the number of shots fired reports are up 135%, vehicle thefts 76% and burglaries 44%, according to statistics released by Padilla at the June 21 council meeting during his Public Safety presentation.
“It probably will not come as a surprise to you that numbers are historically high,” Padilla said.
The chief said the numbers started to go up after COVID-19 hit in March 2020, George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police officers in May 2020, the state Legislature adopted police reform laws in 2021 and Kent lost about 30% of its force to resignations and retirements in 2021.
“We see clear trends to when the numbers changed,” Padilla said. “Those all had a direct impact to what’s going on.”
Prior to going deeper into the stats, Padilla had a message for the council and the public.
“I am incredibly frustrated that I have to report that we are in a sustained crime epidemic,” Padilla said. “We have to find a way out of this.”
Councilmember Les Thomas asked the chief if the neighboring cities of Federal Way, Auburn and Renton are seeing similar increases.
“Everybody’s numbers are up,” Padilla said.
Mayor Dana Ralph also replied to Thomas.
“We are working with those cities on all of these issues,” Ralph said.
The number of shots fired incidents in Kent jumped to 179 in 2021 from 76 in 2019, a jump of 135%. There were 117 incidents in 2020. There has been 86 incidents this year through June 15.
“In 2019 to 2020 it takes a significant turn and then in 2o21 it was a significantly higher increase,” Padilla said. “We are looking at those numbers and more for this year. …We are on pace to exceed the 2021 totals.”
The number of homicides by firearms was 10 in 2017, six in 2018, four in 2019, four in 2020, 11 in 2021 and five so far in 2022.
The number of people injured by firearms was 24 in 2017, 23 in 2018, 17 in 2019, 33 in 2020, 46 in 2021 and 24 so far this year.
The number of shots fired that resulted in property damage was 31 in 2017, 29 in 2018, 17 in 2019, 33 in 2020, 46 in 2021 and 24 so far this year.
In incidents where shell casings were found or witnesses knew there was gunfire but nobody was injured, there were 59 shots fired in 2017, 47 in 2018, 30 in 2019, 48 in 2020, 81 in 2021 and 36 so far this year.
The total number of shots fired incidents for all categories was 124 in 2017, 105 in 2018, 76 in 2019, 117 in 2020, 179 in 2021 and 86 so far this year.
“We are averaging 17.2 shootings per month in our city this year,” Padilla said.
Kent Police and other law enforcement agencies in the Puget Sound region have struggled to reduce the number of stolen vehicles for years.
“They’ve always been high in Kent, but we’ve never seen numbers like this,” Padilla said. “We are averaging 170 per month in the city.”
The monthly average was 74 in 2019.
Kent had 891 vehicle thefts in 2019; 1,013 in 2020; 1,565 in 2021; and 849 so far in 2022. That’s an increase of 76% from 2019 to 2021.
Padilla said Kent’s large warehouse industrial area often has led to numerous burglaries.
“But we’ve broken all previous records,” he said. “These are historic highs.”
The city had 735 burglaries in 2019; 881 in 2020; 1,062 in 2021; and 631 so far in 2022. That’s an average of 88 per month in 2021 and 126 per month so far this year.
About 75% of the burglaries are commercial and 25% are residential.
While Padilla rarely highlights shoplifting stats, he said he did during this report because of the increase in cases.
He said organized retail theft groups and the homeless are reasons for the higher numbers. Kent averaged 35 shoplifting cases per month in 2020. That jumped to 40 per month in 2021 and 48 per month so far this year.
“Go to any homeless camp and you will find stolen property from homes, apartments and retail box stores,” Padilla said.
Why is crime up?
Padilla pointed to several reasons for the increases, including a state law that allows open drug use by not enforcing possession laws, state Legislature approval of restrictions to enforce laws, staffing crisis in the state and Kent and criminal justice systems not engaged fully to help reduce crime.
Councilmember Les Thomas asked Padilla about the trend.
“We have seen nationally crime going on but not prosecuted, how are we doing with prosecutions?” Thomas said.
Padilla replied that things are going pretty well in Kent Municipal Court that prosecutes misdemeanors, but not so well at the county level that handles felonies.
“I think in our city we do a good job of controlling what we can control,” Padilla said. “Our prosecutors are trying to meet the will and desire of our community, providing services and resources with accountability. …it’s not one or the other, it’s both…At our level, I think we are doing the best we can do.”
It’s the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office where Padilla and Mayor Ralph question how crimes are handled.
“Our challenges are at the county level with prosecution,” Padilla said. “We understand the need for restorative justice reform, humanitarian efforts and services. But we can’t forget the needs of the victims and we can’t overlook the general impact that crime has on all of us whether you’re directly the victim of crime or you’re related to it.”
Ralph and Padilla oppose the county’s Restorative Community Pathways program that lowers the number of juveniles put in jail for their crimes and focuses on trying to keep them from becoming repeat offenders.
“Incarceration isn’t the tool to fix everything but it has to be part of the overall approach,” said Padilla, who plans to bring back a repeat offender program in Kent to get more criminals in the city jail that can hold over 100 inmates and currently has about 70.
The chief said they are restaffing at the jail and retooling to make prosecuting repeat offenders a priority.
“We need to restore booking capacity and those in jail need to be held in jail,” he said.
Padilla said legislators rolled back some of the police reform laws from 2021 but he would like to see more changes to help officers do their jobs on some of the laws that he claims went too far.
“We will look to a little more adjusting, particularly restrictions on vehicle pursuits,” Padilla said. “It’s having a huge impact.”
A reduced police force due to retirements and resignations has hampered the city as well, Padilla said. But he added a new recruitment effort is expected to help get the numbers closer to the 165 officers allowed under the city general fund budget.
“We are hiring officers at rates not seen in decades,” Padilla said. “The numbers will go up and we’ll close ground on our vacancies.”