Violent crime drops in 2001

Published on Thu, Jul 25, 2002
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Violent crime drops in 2001

Serious crime in Blaine continues to drop, but local police are getting busier and busier writing tickets. When Blaine police chief Bill Elfo presented city council with the state of police business on July 22, he showed a steady decline in the violent crime and property crime rates, a lower number of misdemeanor filings in municipal court, but a higher number of notices of infraction being issued.

Blaine’s number of violent and property crimes dropped for the fourth year in a row from 2000 to 2001. In 1997, there were 683 crimes serious enough to merit reporting to the national crime database, which monitors the “index crimes” of murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson. That number dropped to 384 by 2001. Since Blaine’s population grew in that period, that translates to the index crime rate per capita being cut in half. However, Elfo noted that the index doesn’t track felony offenses more common to Blaine, such as drug trafficking. ‘This is just one picture of crime in a city,” he said.

Misdemeanor crimes in Blaine, such as driving with a suspended license, minors in possession of alcohol and drunk driving decreased very marginally from 2000 to 2001. However, notices of infraction, which include non-criminal citations ranging from speeding to not wearing a seatbelt, were up close to 30 percent in 2001.

“Misdemeanors and traffic enforcement are a good indicator of work load,” Elfo said. Of crimes handled in municipal court, which covers non-criminal infractions and misdemeanors, Blaine has the highest number of cases per resident and cases per officer of any city in the county. In 2000 there were 200 cases in Blaine court for every officer on the force compared to 63 in Lynden municipal court and 110 for Ferndale. Those numbers went up in 2001 to 260 for Blaine and 74 for Lynden, but down in Ferndale to 79.

Elfo said being a border town was the main reason for the high volume. Police responded to the ports of entry almost 400 times in 2001, up 25 percent from the year before, mostly for misdemeanors. “Every drunk driver coming into the country, every one with a misdemeanor amount of marijuana, every suspended license, we handle,” Elfo said. Higher scrutiny at the borders since September 11 and increased surveillance from Border Patrol cameras is pushing the number of border related incidents higher, Elfo said. “We’re having more contact with these people now because they’re being detected.”

With over 8 million vehicles crossing the border into Blaine, and a similar number outbound every year, Blaine has a traffic volume that translates into more traffic violations, Elfo said. “Only 21 percent of the violators have Blaine zip codes,” he said. Blaine issued 2,781 notices of infraction in 2001, compared to 1,986 in the year before. Lynden issued 547 tickets in 2000 and 660 in 2001, while Ferndale issued 981 in 2000 and 611 in 2001.

Besides more work for police officers, more tickets means more money in Blaine coffers. In 2001 the city collected $249,718 in fines compared to $201,811 the year before, more than double that collected in any of the other small cities in the county. “We don’t look at fines as a source of revenue, but they do offset the cost of criminal justice,” Elfo said.

In comparing Blaine with data from 27 other Washington cities with populations between 2,500 and 5,000, Elfo said Blaine came out on top of the list for most misdemeanor arrests, most citations issued, and most misdemeanor arrests and citations per officer.

The city was lower down the list for violent crimes and property crime but still on the high side, with a crime rate ranking seventh out of 27 in those areas. “We hope to see us lower on the chart next year,” Elfo said..
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