Yakima County Development Association - Crime: Aligning Perception and Reality

Jonathan Smith

The President’s Pen is a weekly blog written by Jonathan Smith, New Vision’s President and CEO about local economic development projects and initiatives. It also covers economic trends, workforce issues, business climate policies, and manufacturing news. 



Crime:  Aligning Perception and Reality

Crime: Aligning Perception and Reality

June 03, 2014

At our monthly Industry Roundtable meeting this morning we had a lively conversation about crime in the Yakima Valley.  Yakima Police Chief Dominic Rizzi and Brian Winters from the Yakima County Sheriff's office joined us to pinpoint our local crime problems and discuss how businesses and citizens can help prevent crime.  Carmen Mendez from Citizens for Safe Yakima Valley Communities was also on hand to highlight what their organization is working on to reduce crime.

Chief Rizzi provided some interesting details and perspectives on our local crime issue.  He said that whether we like it or not perception is reality for people who are worried about their safety.  His department is spending a lot of time bringing perception and reality in line within Yakima.  He cited that gang activity creates community wide insecurity even though the gangs are mostly after each other.  Rizzi said the City is going after gangs in wholly new ways using an intelligence driven team based approach. 

The Chief then went on to say that crime statistics are troubling and distorting our criminal activity.  When Washington passed a law requiring new crime reporting it impacted our numbers.  Now the department may report three offenses from one incident:  burglary, assault and eluding.  Under federal reporting requirements this would, however, only be reported as a burglary.  As a result our statistics have been inflated since this law passed in 2011.  Rizzi feels that our real crime rate is lower than the statistics for these reasons.  As an example he cited that his department had over reported burglaries by 30 percent.  Part of this challenge lies in definitional differences between states on crimes.  A burglary in Yakima is a criminal trespass in another state so it is very hard to use crime statistics for apple to apple comparisons between communities. 

Brian Winters told our group that crime changes complexion a bit as you move out into the rural areas.  He agreed with Rizzi on crime statistics and cited that our domestic violence numbers are higher than other states because Washington law requires arrests when incidents of domestic violence are reported (where most states do not require arrests).  Brian went on to say that citizens can help by being observant and not hesitating to call law enforcement if they witness suspicious or criminal behavior. 

Carmen Mendez chimed in that citizens have a responsibility to help law enforcement.  Their organization is tackling graffiti issues, working to help teenagers in need find summer jobs, and taking other steps to address social issues that impact crime.  The group is also now forming an auto theft taskforce to impact this issue in our community.  Carmen added that people can help others and themselves by taking extra steps to secure their belongings.  Hiding or not leaving valuables in your car is a simple step that reduces your chances of getting broken into.  Similarly other steps you take to secure your house or business reduce the risk of crime. 

In addition to these preventative measures, adopting drug free employer policies, forming block watch programs, and mentoring our kids can all make a difference.  Chief Rizzi ended by offering an insightful quote from Robert Peel. 

"The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence."

Well said.  Let's support our local law enforcement agencies and help them get the job done.  If you would like to learn more about how you can plug in and help please contact Carmen Mendez or visit her organization's website at www.safeyakimavalley.com.  Also feel free to contact our organization as we are very motivated to make our Valley safe and clearly see how crime impacts our economic development efforts.

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