Are crime statistics bad in Kootenai County?
But that was a trick question.
Saying that our crime figures are gloomy is only true because all crime is bad, so any number would be unfortunate.
In the real world, though, things are very different.
“The biggest question,” said Coeur d’Alene Chief of Police Lee White, “concerns the fear of crime. Are people really frightened?
“I would say the answer is no.”
We’ll take an objective look at local crime in a minute.
Before we get there, however, it’s worth considering not only White’s statement about human perspective, but also a thought from Barry McHugh, the county prosecutor.
McHugh naturally has local crime figures right at hand, but before he even starts to explain how we’re doing in terms of offenses going up or down, he wants you to know that a good deal of “crime per capita” in Kootenai County is artificial.
Oh, there’s no question that a theft, assault or drug arrest can be very, very real to the people involved.
Victims experience a true and scary wave of shock.
Yet McHugh wants to make it clear that using total crimes to see how arrests and prosecutions in the county look compared to national or statewide numbers is a sucker’s game.
For instance, there were 9,610 reported “Group A” crimes during 2016 in Kootenai County.
“You have to consider that any numbers are deceiving,” McHugh said, “because our population isn’t really represented correctly.
“There’s an official number (153,701 in 2016), but there are so many things that need to be considered in addition to our permanent residents.
“During tourist season, the population is really inflated — and some of the people are here to party, or without the same respect for local laws that you’d hope.
“We also happen to be located at the intersection of two major highways, and we’re right next door to a major population center over in Spokane. So these additions to our population make our crime figures look far worse than they should be.”
WHAT’S MORE, visitors would seem to be accountable for a large number of relatively minor offenses that are...
Well, not exactly meaningless, because it’s still breaking the law.
But the wave of summer tourists and Spokane-area folks do tend to help pile up crime numbers in areas like drug offenses (2,342 in 2016), simple assault (1,400), vandalism (1,080), and larceny (2,723).
When you consider the entire yearly total was 9,610, it’s pretty easy to see what McHugh and White mean when they suggest putting “per capita” figures into the proper context.
“You hate to make generalizations,” White said, “but our summers clearly escalate the numbers. And the influx coming from Spokane keeps growing immensely.
“Obviously, that group coming across the border has pushed up the figures for drug-related offenses, as well.
“When you look at it realistically, our rate of serious crime is very, very low for the size of the county.
“I can honestly say that this is a very safe place to live.”
Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.