Port O Call inquired of the city of Sequim and their ranking as the 14th most dangerous city in Washington. Chief of Police Bill Dickinson was kind enough to respond. Here is his unedited response.
City Manager, Steve Burkett reminded me that I haven’t yet sent you information on your inquiry regarding the web site that lists Sequim as the 14th most dangerous city in the State. I apologize for the delay. As with any complex question, the answers are not simple so please allow me to provide you with more analysis than that provided by the company that sells security services. The data they rely on is that which is provided by the city to the FBI and which is published by the Department of Justice. All agencies provide their crime data to the FBI. For many years the standard by which we reported was called the Uniform Crime Reporting system or UCRS. A few years ago, the federal government created a new system called NIBRS (National Incident Based Reporting System) and Sequim was one of the first cities to begin reporting under the new system. One of the changes in the reporting system involves reporting numbers of offenses. Whereas a bar fight with 6 people assaulting each other used to be counted as one fight, the new system now counts those six individuals as 6 different victims and 6 different offenses. This particular scenario along with domestic violence calls accounted for our increase in assaults which was a considerable portion of our increase in violent crimes. The other significant number involved sexual assaults. I reviewed each of these cases to see why our incidence of sexual assaults were so high. What I found was that several of the cases involved minors involved in consensual sex. It is illegal for an older teen to have sex with a young teen and we had several statutory rape cases involving teens however in all of those cases the sex was consensual. We also had a couple of adult rape cases which again involved people who knew each other however the woman had not consented. This typically involves divorced or separated couples and in a few cases, couples who met in bars or at parties. In addition, we had one stranger rape case in which we took a report, but investigation ultimately revealed that the crime had never occurred. Unfortunately, we dutifully reported that case which ultimately was unfounded and should have been, but wasn’t removed from our statistics. You can see that our “violent crime” rate for 2012 (which is the year’s data that the website is quoting) is primarily composed of these two crime statistics (violent crime also includes murder and robbery, but we have had no murders and while robberies occur, they are also fairly rare here), but they really are not an accurate reflection of the safety of our community. The average citizen in Sequim who doesn’t engage in alcohol or drug related activities, promiscuous behaviors, or associate with persons with violent tendencies are at a very low risk of becoming a crime victim. I think this is a truism no matter where you go in America or the world, if one indulges in behaviors that involve higher risk, one is more likely to become a victim of a violent crime.
Importantly, you have to take into consideration demographics. Sequim is a small town with some 6800 people living within our city limits. If we were to have a single homicide this year, it would mean a 100% increase in our murder rate whereas if Chicago had one more murder, the percentage increase would be very minor. The smaller the numbers, the greater the statistical impact. It does not take very many violent crimes to lift our crimes per 1000 population (which is the definition of crime rate) and so any anomaly in our data can greatly impact our reported crime rate. As illustrated above, those crimes we reported with the one unfounded crime make our numbers look very high. If we had been able to remove the one reported crime that did not actually occur, we would not have been on that list. Now let’s talk about the non-violent crime rate in Sequim which in fact is fairly high for a city our size.
So once again, I reiterate that the City’s population is 6800. The population of the Sequim School District is about 30,000. The population of Clallam County is about 72,000 and if you add Jefferson County, the population of the North Peninsula is about 100,000. Why does this matter? Because Sequim has become the retail center of the entire North Olympic Peninsula. Virtually all of the big box stores on the Peninsula are located here in our city limits. Whereas, most small towns in America are the center of a rural and sparsely populated region, Sequim actually has a small fraction of our surrounding population. There are far more people living outside of our City limits than there are people who live within our City limits. But a huge number of these people come here to shop, dine, go to school, recreate, work, do business and yes, steal. Costco, Home Depot, Office Depot, Petco, Ross Dress for Less, and one of the two regional super Walmarts are located here. The only national chain restaurants on the Peninsula are located here (Applebee’s, IHOP, and Black Bear Diner). My point is that the entire 100,000 population of the Peninsula must come to Sequim in order to shop at these kinds of large retail establishments. In fact, we add a couple thousand students to our community population every day when they come into our city to attend our schools (4 of the 5 Sequim School District schools are located within the City limits). Now it is also a sad fact that Clallam County has one of, if not the highest, opiate drug death rates in the State of Washington. People who have expensive drug habits and no other source of income, must resort to theft in order to support their habit. If you want to steal things, you either resort to taking items of value that are easy to steal such as a purse or laptop left in an unlocked car, commit a burglary, or you can take the least level of risk and go shoplifting in stores. Since Sequim has an abundance of very large stores full of valuable and saleable items, we have an extraordinary number of shoplifting cases for a city our size. Theft is the single largest crime category in Sequim and of the total theft cases, the vast majority are shoplifting. We deal with these cases frequently.
To add a more recent perspective to the report on the website let’s take a look at 2013 data, the very next year following the 2012 data highlighted by “homesecurityshield.org”. There were 13 violent crimes in Sequim during 2013. Divided by our population, that is a violent crime rate of 1.9 crimes per 1000 residents. As for the property crimes, our rate remains much higher at 57 crimes per 1000 residents, but remember that the number of victims is quite small since the vast majority of victims are actually retail stores. Of the 383 thefts reported in Sequim during 2013, 308 were shoplifting thefts. If you removed all the shoplift calls from our retail stores, the property crime rate would drop to about 11.8 per 1000 and a total crime rate of 13.7 per 1000 which would in fact, make us one of the safer cities in the State. So that is much more consistent with our typical annual crime rates.
The long and short of it, is that Sequim’s violent crime rate for that particular year of 2012 (the only year we have been placed in such a high-rate category) was unusually high for us, however when carefully analyzed, it in no way provides any indication that our community is unsafe as suggested by the website host whose job it is to sell security services. Our property crime rate is indeed above average for a city of our size, but this is because we have a very small population with a very high rate of shoplifting cases. I don’t think the high rate of shoplifting makes our community particularly unsafe either. Our citizens have reflected that sentiment very strongly during the last citizen satisfaction survey in which a huge percentage of our citizens stated they feel safe when walking in their neighborhoods day or night, and they are right. The chances of becoming a victim of a violent crime here are very low unless you participate in higher risk behaviors. That being said, I sometimes worry our citizens have a false sense of security because in spite of our shoplifting rates, our citizen victimization rate is very low. For that reason, I still always encourage our residents to lock their doors and windows when they are not at home or in their cars because there are people who will help themselves to valuables left unattended.
Bottom line….. Sequim is not a dangerous place to live.
Please do not hesitate to call on me if I may provide any further information.
Bill Dickinson, Chief