This time last year we were seeing the start of a big upswing in burglaries around the Central District. Anecdotal stories at the time indicated that repeat offenders were a big part of the problem. And now although most categories of crime are down across the region, burglaries remain a problem spot, up almost 9% in Seattle vs. a year ago.
Today the King County Prosecutor’s Office began a new program to focus their resources on reducing the burglary trends. Dubbed the Repeat Burglar Initiative, it is dedicating a deputy prosecutor to work directly with burglary detectives and attempt to bring convictions against the most prolific thieves.
The initiative is modeled after a similar program that began to target auto theft 3 years ago. Also focusing on repeat-offenders, it is credited with a 32% reduction in stolen vehicles over that time.
In an interview today, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said that coordination across jurisdictions and detailed tracking of evidence will be used to bring big cases against the busiest burglars. For example, the county’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) will be used to link together fingerprint evidence throughout the county and then try to find matches out of its database of known criminals.
But the prosecutor says that there’s more work to do at the state level. Currently, state law limits the effect of prior criminal history to escalate sentencing levels for burglary convictions. The standard sentencing scale for burglaries tops out at a range of 63-84 months regardless of how many prior convictions a person may have. His suggestion: change the law to bring burglaries in line with other Class B felonies, with a maximum 10 year sentence. (note that burglaries are not subject to the 3-strikes law, which mainly targets violent crimes).
State sentencing code is also a factor in the juvenile cases that were such a key part of last year’s spree. Mr. Satterberg says that burglaries by juveniles have become more serious in recent years, moving up from stealing money and booze to a recent focus on stealing firearms that can be easily resold for a big profit. In fact, he says that several recent drive-by shootings have been traced back to guns stolen in burglaries. To compensate, prosecutors say they will focus their resources in the juvenile area too by making sure that offenders are brought to trial on every case they can be tied to, vs. only focusing on a single crime that they may have been picked up on. Those additional counts will result in additional jail time.
Police officials consistently say that individual citizens have the most control to avoid becoming a victim. Simple things like locking your doors, arming your security system, and leaving easy-to-resell items like electronics out of view can cause thieves to move on to easier targets.
I’ve posted some regional burglary stats and examples of the kinds of burglars that will be targeted in this program on seattlepostglobe.org