Sheriff’s office talks crime rates at community council meeting

Overall crime was down 11% last year.

King County sheriff’s office Captain Chris Leyba laid out the stats — and perceptions — of Vashon-Maury Island’s criminal activity during last week’s community council meeting Feb. 15.

Leyba said the department polled deputies on their opinions of island crime issues, based on their experience responding to calls and criminal activity. Half of deputies said crimes against persons are the biggest safety issue on Vashon; another third or so listed drug activity.

Leyba also spoke to questions the department has received over the prevalence of human trafficking on the island. Aside from the high-profile prosecution and conviction of island landscaping business owner Jesus Ruiz-Hernandez, which The Beachcomber has documented, it is not a prevalent issue on the island, he said.

“I had our crime analysis people scour our books, and other than this federal case, we really couldn’t find anything going on,” Leyba said.

Based on conversations with deputies about simple assaults and commercial burglaries — which posted the biggest increases in crime on the island — “It sounds like there’s one or two folks that are kind of well known, that are committing the vast majority of these crimes, especially with commercial burglary,” Leyba said. “Our detectives are aware of that. We’re not necessarily worried about a ring out there. The people are known to the police.”

By the numbers

In 2023, Vashon saw a total of 26 simple assaults, five aggravated assaults, three sex offenses, two kidnappings and 19 violations of no contact or protection orders, according to data Leyba showed.

The island saw 34 burglaries, 37 instances of larceny (including simple shoplifting) and six instances of auto theft in that time. There were no reported robberies.

Statistically speaking, crime rates can appear to fluctuate more wildly when they start from a low number, Leyba cautioned. That smaller sample size can make it harder to pick out trends year-after-year. A town with one auto theft in 2022 and three in 2023 would record a 200% increase in its auto theft rate, for example.

Nonetheless, the island saw more simple assaults (19 to 26), intimidation offenses (11 to 17) and commercial burglaries (9 to 21) from 2022 to 2023. But it also saw a decline in aggravated assaults (8 to 5), sex offenses (8 to 3), auto theft (16 to 6), larceny (59 to 37) and vandalism (31 to 21).

Rates of residential burglary, fraud and protection order violations stayed relatively stable.

Overall crime was down 11% last year.

Deputy activity

Data seems to indicate that deputies accomplished less proactive policing in the years following the outbreak of COVID, and that island cops are starting to work those numbers back up, Leybe said.

“We get a lot of questions from islanders about … ‘What does the sheriff’s office do with their free time?’ ” Leyba said.

A five-year comparison of deputy “on-view activity” — or in other words, the number of traffic stops, business and area checks, and other routine police stops completed in-between urgent calls — shows that deputy on-view activity was highest in 2019 but tumbled to a low in 2022 and early 2023.

(Daily calls for service have remained fairly consistent during that five-year period.)

Leyba attributed the steady decline, which began in early 2020, to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least initially.

And “in 2022, we really saw them drop for various factors; we had some staffing issues … we had a lot of new deputies, because we had a lot of turnover in the ranks,” he said.

But Leyba pointed to a sharp rise in summer 2023 that continued through the end of the year as a good sign. In particular, deputies took 56 on-view activities in June last year and, in August, tripled that number to 169.

He attributed this increase mostly to there being deputies “finally starting to get their feet on the ground out there, rooted in the Vashon community, (knowing) where the players … and the problems are.”

“Obviously we have some work to do … but we are on an upward trend. I hope that is a little bit of solace for people that are worried about our ability to use our discretionary time more proactively,” Leyba said.

By year, “on-view activities” started at 2290 in 2019, then shrunk to 1604, 1539 and finally 845 year-after-year, before finally rebounding to 1120 last year.

Also according to the data shared, most deputies said they have enough time for proactive policing, that they have a solid line of communication with the community, and that the community is reporting crime appropriately on Vashon, Leyba said.