A recent analysis of three years of violent crime statistics by analysts in our federal partnership is sobering. Although crime in Yakima has been trending down for the past five years, we are still far above the rest of America (4.5 times the national average). “In 2020, Yakima has experienced significant violent events related to gun and gang violence. Unofficial data indicate an estimated 11% increase in aggravated assaults from 2019. The estimated robbery rate increased 19.5%. Given the trends of recent years, and despite the availability of national data for 2020, these rates are likely once again far above the national rates in each category.”
Yakima is not alone in this experience. Sixty-three of the 66 largest police jurisdictions saw increases in violent crimes during 2020. Seattle saw a 74% increase in homicide, Chicago 56%, and New York had a 97% increase in shootings. But violence, no matter where it happens, is unacceptable.
The Yakima police department has been highly focused on violent crime in the two years I have been the chief. That does NOT mean that we don’t take other responsibilities like traffic enforcement and quality of life issues, seriously. But it does mean that violent crime is our highest priority and thus where the majority of our attention and resources are deployed.
The department is full of dedicated and relentless personnel and they have done incredible work. We have a 10 year average clearance rate (for homicide) of 68%. That is nearly ten points higher than the national average and compares extremely well to cities like Chicago and Baltimore who hover near 40% clearance rates. Our officers are knowledgeable and efficient and our detectives relentless. But the goal is not just case closure – but preventing crime from even happening. This requires proactive efforts, collaboration, and strategy.
Local, County, and Federal law enforcement representatives recently joined me in announcing a book club on this very issue. Some scoff and with a sneer say, “A book club, really?” Yes. Really. I am often asked, “What can I do to help?” This book not only explains the most effective national strategy to combat violent crime but what roles the police, the courts, the non-profit sector, the churches, and the community writ large should take to effectively and dramatically reduce violent crime.
I urge anyone with a sincere interest in this topic to read the book and to encourage others to do the same. In August we will be discussing it as a community. At the very least online, but with enough interest we will hold community forums. The author has even offered to help – perhaps he will join us?
I want to assure you and the community that we are working very hard and have been for years. We have been implementing the strategy outlined in “Don’t Shoot” and are excited to get the next pieces in place so that the work can get to the next level. We made two arrests in one of the recent high profile shootings and have significant leads in the recent homicide. I would like to point out that in both instances we were provided “Ring” doorbell camera footage which was instrumental in locating evidence and suspect information. But only 215 people (including me) have signed up for YPD’s “Safecam Program”. If you have video recording capability at your home of business I urge you to go to www.yakimapolice.org/safecam-registration tonight!
A few of the other efforts we have undertaken in the past two years:
- YPD has hired 31 high caliber police officer candidates (many local and bilingual)
- YPD has a full-time recruiting officer to locate and encourage exceptional candidates to apply. Unlike many American police departments, we are not struggling to find new officers.
- The YPD gang unit was consolidated under one command and given the mission of proactive investigations to disrupt the most violent gangs and the most violent offenders
- YPD is collaborating with both the non-profit WAY program (gang intervention) and gang prevention efforts in YSD’s middle schools.
- YPD has rebuilt and strengthened our relationships with all of our locally based Federal partners (FBI, DEA, ATF, and HSI). This effort was enhanced by the US Attorney’s Office and their focus on Yakima County for their Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative.
- YPD and the FBI are currently launching a Gang task force to combat gang violence throughout Yakima County. The Yakima Sheriff’s Office, Washington State Police, Department of Corrections and others have also expressed interest in this effort.
- YPD and its partners have secured over a million dollars in grants for these efforts – and we continue to actively seek additional funding through grants.
- Despite COVID, YPD started a volunteer program. We currently have 37 volunteers who have contributed 2,459 hours (for an added value of $70,179).
With the assistance of City Manager Harrison, we continue to add new technology and strategies to increase efficiency and innovation. Some of those include:
- Increasing our analyst positions so that we may become a truly data-driven police department. This will not only help us with the intelligence of who are where we should focus our efforts, but also look for areas we can improve service to be more effective.
- We are in the process of using data to change our police district boundaries to better allocate resources based on crime and demand for service
- We have been looking at technology to help identify specific vehicles related to criminal activity
- We have been exploring technology to improve customer service when people call 911. This system provides texts with case number, updates on projected officer arrival times, the ability to immediately file online reports, and an opportunity to provide feedback on the level of customer service received. Other major cities (like Tucson, AZ) have found it reduces secondary calls to overworked dispatch centers and call takers in police and legal offices as follow information is immediately provided.