Crime Statistics Decrease in Yelm During Pandemic

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Due to COVID-19-related shutdowns, crime decreased in Yelm over the course of 2020, but is now on the rise to more typical levels as restrictions loosen and police activity returns to normal.

Yelm Police Chief Todd Stancil and Assistant Police Chief Rob Carlson sat down with the Nisqually Valley News and discussed the crime trend over 2020 and the first quarter of 2021.

In 2020, overall police calls — those initiated by police and those initiated by the public — decreased by 17 percent overall from the numbers in 2019.

“In general, obviously, crimes went down because of COVID — not across the board, but fairly consistently went down,” Stancil said. “We attribute the majority of that to COVID, just because of the activities of stores, the internal activities here and from (not) being able to book people in jail. Everything was different.”

To paint the overall picture of how COVID-19 affected calls for service, Stancil pointed to pre-shutdown times.

“If you go back to February 2020, that was the last normal month before COVID shut everything down,” Stancil said. “So in that particular month, we did 1,690 calls for service. … This year in February, we did 1,117. We were down 34 percent.”

During the pandemic, the Yelm police force limited self-initiated contact with people as much as possible in an effort to keep the officers safe in the COVID-19-affected landscape, but February 2021 was really the last month it observed the restrictions.

By comparison, March 2020 was when the first shutdown took place, which saw about 1,285 calls for service, down from March 2019’s number of 1,884. Now that policing is returning to normal, the number was up to 1,381 calls during March of this year.

April shows this trend even stronger, with the total calls for service in April 2019 amounting to 1,683, then down to 836 in April 2020 and back up to 1,238 this year.

Stancil said since the numbers were low last year, at the end of this year it will look like crime has increased dramatically, even though it is simply returning to more typical levels as restrictions loosen.

And crime really did decrease in 2020: Traffic-related incidents decreased by 30 percent, property crimes decreased 16 percent, and crimes against persons decreased 5 percent in 2020.

Shoplifting crimes were the second lowest in 10 years, thanks to the pandemic-inspired practices of businesses, which checked people in and out of their buildings, Stancil said.

Total arrests also went down.

“In 2019, we arrested 1,235 people,” Stancil said. “For the year, last year, we arrested 881, about a 400-person drop.”

He said the sharp disparity was because jails did not accept new inmates for large portions of the last year.

“We’re still playing with that today,” Stancil said. “Even in the county jail … it’s difficult to book property crime offenses, as we’ve experienced here in the last couple weeks. We’ve had some arrests that they wouldn’t take for us.”

However, there were a few categories of crime that did increase over 2020.

“The two crimes that went up the most that we noticed was domestic violence, which kind of goes hand-in-hand with COVID (because) everybody was at home and the second one was burglaries,” Stancil said.

The latter of these increased by 31 percent over 2020, though Stancil said he wouldn’t tie the burglary uptick whole-heartedly to COVID-19.

“Burglaries tend to do a rollercoaster ride, if you look at the last 10 years,” he said, adding that some years numbers are up, and from that increase, the only place to go is down, from which the coaster then goes around the next bend and up the next hill.

Assistant Chief Carlson, however, said the increased burglaries could be partially due to the pandemic, because people may have had more time on their hands, and those who would steal had more time to do so.

“Maybe that would be their motive, occupying that time, just to go out and break into things and see that crime of opportunity type stuff,” Carlson said, to which Stancil conceded was a good point.

It is notable however, that even with the increase in burglaries, overall property crime saw a net decrease of 16 percent in 2020 as compared to 2019.

Ultimately, though, Carlson agreed with Stancil’s assessment that 2021 will show a higher number of crimes in almost every category, but noted the loosening of pandemic-area restrictions will be to blame rather than a true increase in criminal activity.

“It’s basically back to normal,” Carlson said. “It’s not going to be that increase — activity isn’t going crazy and Yelm’s (not) falling apart — it’s just going to be that things are going back to normal.”

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