As vehicle thefts double and property crimes spike, Spokane Valley senator proposes course correction on public safety, including longer sentences for habitual offenders
OLYMPIA – The rate of car theft has nearly doubled in the past year, according to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, and Sen. Mike Padden is responding with a call for stronger new laws and a change in the Washington Legislature’s approach to public safety.
Other statistics show a dramatic increase in property crime over the last five years, including thefts, break-ins and burglaries. Padden, lead Republican on the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said he plans to introduce legislation for 2023 that would give prosecutors discretion to seek enhanced sentences for habitual property criminals.
“The crime stats we have been seeing lately are frightful,” Padden said. “Normally we don’t talk about legislation for the upcoming year so soon after the latest session. But these numbers are so awful they deserve a response from the Legislature now. I hope my bill will provide a focus for the debate we will have regarding the damage the Washington Legislature has done to public safety over the past five years.”
The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs announced last week that:
- Vehicle thefts increased 88 percent in the first three months of 2022, compared to the same period last year.
- Vehicle thefts were up 99 percent for March 2022 compared to March 2021.
- Vehicle thefts rose 93 percent after new policing restrictions approved by the Washington Legislature took effect at the end of July 2021.
Raw numbers are just as telling. In the first two months of last year, 4,552 vehicles were stolen statewide. In 2022, the number rose to 8,320. Sheriffs and police officials say it’s the first time Washington has topped 4,000 cars stolen a month.
Other reports confirm the trend of a rising crime rate. Statewide crime data for 2021 still isn’t published, but a report from the Office of the Administrator of the Courts last year (see chart below) points to increases in all categories of property crime from 2015 to 2020. Vehicle theft was up 31.9 percent, burglary 4.9 percent, larceny/theft 9.4 percent, destruction of property 28.7 percent and fraud 227.1 percent.
Padden’s legislation, still in the drafting phase, would allow prosecutors to seek longer sentences against repeat property offenders – specifically, an additional 12 months for a Class C felony and 24 months for a Class B felony. The legislation is modeled after a similar bill Padden introduced in the 2017 session, Senate Bill 5703. Corrections officials estimated the measure would increase average daily prison counts by 134.
Padden said he recognizes his proposal goes against the trend of public-safety legislation approved by the Legislature over the past five years. Since a Seattle-dominated majority took control of the statehouse in 2018, numerous bills have reduced and eliminated criminal sentences, mass releases of prisoners have become a matter of state policy, and new policing laws have placed a litany of restrictions on law enforcement officers.
“Sending people to jail is the basic idea, and that goes against the general trend we have seen in Olympia these past five years,” said Padden. “But I think these new auto-theft statistics are enough to make anyone wonder if the Legislature is heading in the right direction.
“We have a lot of work to do to repair public safety in this state. Putting repeat property offenders behind bars for up to two years longer is a great place to start. These are the people who break into our homes, steal our valuables, and lop the catalytic converters off our tailpipes. The numbers tell a harrowing story all by themselves. Behind every number is a victim.
“We need to remember the burden they face, the financial loss, the trauma as they relive the experience of being victimized by someone who has been arrested a dozen times. The crime problem is becoming too big to ignore, and I hope my proposal starts a conversation in the months ahead about the importance of law enforcement and the safety of our communities.”