[Editor’s note: What follows was submitted to us by a police officer in Clark County, Washington, the southernmost county in Washington that borders Portland, Oregon, where crime has indeed been on the rise the last couple of years.]
CLARK COUNTY, WA – To say that crime has significantly increased in Vancouver and the surrounding metro area in Clark County is a severe understatement. Violent crimes (shootings, robberies, violent assaults, etc.) are now a daily occurrence, often occurring multiple times a day, and are at a level this area has never seen. Most citizens have no idea how bad and how violent the Vancouver area has become over the last couple of years. Many area residents are aware that it is worse than it used to be, but are still ignorant to the reality of how violent it has actually become. The majority of violent crimes were always known to be segregated to the west side of the city, with the east side of the city being the safer, more upscale area to visit, shop and live. That is no longer the case, as the violence now spans the city limits and beyond.
With a police department and Sheriff’s office that suffer from a lack of staffing, resources and morale, and a slew of new “police reform” legislation that has significantly hamstrung law enforcement’s ability to fight crime and hold criminals accountable, crime continues to rise at an unmanageable pace.
Property crimes including burglaries, auto prowls and stolen vehicles are also occurring at a historic level within the county. The city of Vancouver alone handles several hundred stolen vehicle calls each month, and those numbers don’t include the stolen vehicle calls handled by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the surrounding city agencies within the county. Many times, these stolen vehicles are used in the commission of other crimes including violent crimes (drive-by shootings, homicides, carjackings, robberies, etc.).
Patrol responses to shootings, which have become a much more regular occurrence in the city and can occur multiple times in one shift, are just one example of many violent crime responses that require a large number of patrol personnel to safely and effectively handle. Many times, this leaves very few, and sometimes no patrol officers to respond to other calls in that specific precinct for an extended period of time. This is only magnified by the depleted staffing levels of the department.
How regular have armed robberies become? A number of convenient stores on the west side of the city have recently and permanently closed: Two 7-11’s with the possibility of a third location currently being discussed. The reason they gave for closing their stores…frequent robberies. The owners said that it was too dangerous for their employees, and even if they kept the stores open, they were finding it difficult to hire people to work in those dangerous conditions.
And this only scratches the surface of the current conditions. Most don’t know how unsafe it actually is out there for them and their families, because those responsible for allowing this to spiral out of control don’t want you know.
Although there are many deeply rooted moral and societal issues that have driven this current crisis, and this increase in violent crime is certainly not isolated to our area, can we identify any local contributing factors to this steep climb in lawlessness?
1. STATE LEGISLATION: As many citizens are now learning, Washington passed a number of legislative bills under the guise of “police reform” that only serve to protect criminals and further tie the hands of law enforcement. The changes are many and too lengthy to discuss here in detail, but it’s important for the community to understand that the legislators responsible for these destructive bills do not have the knowledge, experience, or qualifications to even draft such bills. These bills were drafted and passed in a knee-jerk fashion in response to a progressing political climate that was only further aided by weak leadership in the law enforcement community.
Criminals are fully aware of the new laws and are taking full advantage of those changes. Just one example of such changes is when an officer has the ability to use force (of any kind) to physically detain a suspect after a crime was alleged. That force includes any physical restraint that would prevent the suspect from leaving. Since officers no longer have the ability to physically detain a suspect without a higher level of proof that the suspect committed the crime, suspects now just walk away or flee the scene before the officers have the chance to do a preliminary investigation and develop that higher level of proof. This, unfortunately, is a frequent occurrence that allows the person responsible for the crime to get away and continue to victimize the community.
Again, that is just one example of the many changes that have been implemented in Washington that now make it more dangerous for the community, and show that law makers are more interested in protecting criminals than they are victims.
2. COURT SYSTEM: When you elect judges who are soft on crime, you get exactly what you voted for. Many criminals get nothing more than a slap on the wrist, while others are not held on any legitimate bail amount, which allows them to continue to offend over and over again without the appropriate level of accountability in relation to the crimes they commit.
There have been several recent cases that have made the national spotlight involving violent criminals hurting and killing other victims after being allowed to go free on an a low, insignificant bail amount. The public’s shock that these criminals, who should be in jail, are able to continue to commit violent acts just shows the public’s lack of awareness of what is occurring on a regular basis. Criminals who commit violent crimes and are let out on a low bail amount is something that unfortunately occurs far too frequently.
3. PROSECUTING ATTORNEY’S OFFICE: The PA’s office is also soft on crime and have developed a reputation among officers and deputies that they are unwilling to prosecute many of the criminals, including violent criminals, at the level they should be be prosecuted. Dropping gun charges, allowing violent crimes to be plead down to lesser charges, or making the decision to not charge offenders at all, is just a common theme that has become a running joke among officers who are asking, “Why are we even doing this?”
4. COUNTY CORRECTIONS/JAIL: Although a well known fact among patrol personnel, what most citizens may be surprised to learn is that the jail itself holds plenty of blame for criminals walking the streets instead of being incarcerated where they belong.
When the “pandemic” began and the hysteria mounted, the Clark County Sheriff continued his display of weakness and let the majority of the inmates go free, all in the name of “safety” of course. The jail staff would no longer accept and book into jail anyone that has been arrested for misdemeanor crimes (with only very few exceptions), and they would no longer book criminals into jail on many types of outstanding warrants, including some felony warrants. Although county agencies were notified last year that the jail was open again and was now accepting and booking most arrests, that is absolutely not the case.
Currently, the jail staff does not accept misdemeanor arrests (with the very few exceptions), and the best they will usually do is a “book and release” of the subject, which means the subject goes through the booking and fingerprint process and then is immediately released out the door.
The jail also continues to refuse to book criminals on many of the outstanding warrants, including felony DOC (Department of Correction) warrants that involve violent offenses. So, with the jail’s refusal to book and house these criminals, these same criminals are out committing more crimes.
5. WEAK LEADERSHIP: Weak and non-existent leadership within the Vancouver Police Department and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office has been an ongoing problem for many years, and is a subject that would require a significant amount of time to discuss in detail. And although I certainly can speak to one more than the other, those at the highest ranks of these agencies call themselves leaders, but unfortunately seem to be a bit confused about what a leader actually is and what a leader actually does.
Regarding the significant increase in violent crimes and property crimes, what can and should each agency’s leadership be doing?
- How about regularly putting out factual crime statistics so the public is aware of what is actually occurring?
- How about calling out the prosecuting attorney’s office and making the public aware of many of these reckless and dangerous decisions they make?
- How about calling out the Clark County Sheriff’s Office corrections branch, and making the public aware that they are refusing to book and lodge many of these violent criminals and allow them to roam the streets?
- How about the Clark County Sheriff finally tell us that the jail is open for business, and allow cops to take criminals off the streets again?
But these people are the heads of public safety, so why don’t they do that? Because they’re weak, and their self-interests far exceed the safety of our community on their priority list. Many of them simply pander to whatever way the cultural and political wind is blowing at the time, even at the expense of their own personnel by propagating dangerously false information. These aren’t leaders, they are politicians- politicians who are disconnected from the reality of what is happening on the streets.
6. YOU: Yes, you are also responsible if you recognize the demise of law and order in our community and turn a blind eye by continuing to vote into office the same people who contribute to this continued destruction. Many of these elected officials, some of who are not mentioned here, not only contribute to the growing chaos, but are actually steering the ship directly into the storm.
So, how do we stop this big, dirty snowball of lawlessness that’s rolling down hill and continuing to gain momentum? How do we turn the tide and begin working toward real solutions that will make our community a safe place to live and work? The voters are the ones who ultimately have the power to hold these elected officials accountable for their reckless actions and inactions. The voters have the power to ensure these officials no longer hold their current positions. But, even if voters hold the current leadership accountable, it’s the responsibility of the voters to not simply elect more of the same.