Meth, poverty fuel surge in SK crime

Since covering courts, cops and crime has always been my favorite part of journalism, I read the recent news that Bremerton, Port Orchard and Tacoma were three of the state’s five highest crime areas with real personal interest.

But I can’t say I was greatly surprised.

I was also not greatly surprised to see the local cops proposing all kinds of half-completed theories for the numbers. This is standard for law enforcement everywhere when things go bad, not just the west Sound.

I also wasn’t surprised to see in an editorial in this paper implying that residential transience might be the problem. Transients (read the military) always get a bad rap when crime stats are bad, too.

Nor was I blown away when this newspaper implied editorially that Port Orchard may just be so tough on crime that we arrest a higher percentage of our miscreants than other areas.

I doubt Port Orchard is any tougher on crime than Hunt’s Point or Kirkland.

I came to cover Kitsap County cops and courts in late 1996 after covering the same beats for a large (88 pages weekly) in Blaine County, Idaho, the home of Ketchum and Sun Valley. I was stunned by the courthouse caseloads here.

Blaine County had two murders — both committed by the same guy, a Boise resident who drove 150 miles to kill two strangers — in my four years there.

Kitsap County, albeit with a higher population, had 35 or 40 murders in my three years and change covering cops here.

Blaine County had some burglary but the rich residents there had so much high-tech anti-burglary equipment, and so much private security, that burglary was a losing proposition there.

Bremerton, Tacoma and Port Orchard all have a lot of burglars. Why?

More teenagers for one.

And more poverty (a big reason for crime, and my best guess why crime is up here now — the economic recovery hasn’t really reached the society’s lower stratas yet).

Not to mention a more diverse population and fewer police officers than rich, rural Idaho.

And Bremerton and Port Orchard have more methamphetamine addicts than anywhere else I’ve plied my trade. Meth is the most pernicious drug I’ve ever seen. And I am, in addition to a 20-year crime reporting veteran, a child of the 1960s.

Only crack cocaine, an urban plague generally, comes close to meth in its destructiveness. Meth users quickly become so desperate for the drug they will do anything, literally, to get more poison for their veins.

Burglary, street assault and random violence committed while so high the criminals often don’t remember later always goes up when meth is around in quantity. Always.

There’s one more crime that has been at almost plague-like proportions in Bremerton, and to a lesser extent Port Orchard, in the 10 years I’ve been around — domestic violence.

I asked every cop I knew here in the late 1990s, plus my friend Prosecutor Russ Hauge, why there was so much family warfare in the west Sound. Everyone I talked to had a theory, but nobody knew for sure. But if you doubt that there are too many women and kids being assaulted by their alleged loved ones in the west Sound, spend a day or two at the Kitsap County courthouse and your doubts will be drowned in a sea of familial pain and suffering.

Domestic violence, usually man on woman (or kids) is often not the crime of power that rape is. It is often a stress-induced crime of frustration committed by the otherwise powerless, and although domestic violence crosses all economic lines, it too rises more precipitously in areas where the downed economy most greatly affects the population.

Port Orchard and Bremerton are home to a lot of unskilled and semi-skilled folks. Hard workers willing to do any job. Good people not usually enmeshed in the court system. But when those jobs toward the bottom of the economy shrink, the pressures on those families grows in inverse proprtion.

Mix in meth and you have a recipe for disaster.

Statistics can be made to say anything one wishes them to say. But the computer grinds turning out crime stats are unlikely to have a special animosity toward the west Sound.

The numbers hint at some serious fraying of the social fabric and all the rah-rah boosterism available doesn’t change that.

Port Orchard and Bremerton are both home to a whole lot of good, hard-working citizens. But they also have drug problems, social problems, and economic problems that all the positive spin in the world won’t cure.

We need more drug-treatment facilities, not longer sentences for non-violent users. We need more family services, not speeches about God and family and bootstraps.

The recent crime numbers are too general to lie. What they do is point toward problem areas that should be addressed.

Once the rock is lifted, rather than trying to drop it down on what we don’t wish to see, we should roll it away and get to work cleaning up the mess.

If we do that, next year’s numbers will show an improvement. If instead we talk about what good strict folks we are, things won’t be getting any better in the near future.

Dennis Wilken is a former Port Orchard Independent reporter.

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