Assaults, burglaries and thefts increased in nearly all our region's communities last year.
Overall, major crime was up 11 percent in the Tri-Cities.
That's bad news. An increase in crime is never a good thing.
Richland fared the worst, with 453 more episodes in 2011 than the year prior.
The good news is that we still are below the state and national averages for major crimes. In our community, we suffer roughly 29 crimes per 1,000 people. Statewide, that figure jumps to 40 per 1,000 people. The national average is 34 per 1,000.
Assaults, burglaries and thefts accounted for most of the rise, but officers also see an increase in domestic violence calls.
Police blame crimes of opportunity, gangs and the economy for the increase. But they also say that the Tri-Cities still is one of the safest places to live.
Many of the incidents were property crimes, with opportunistic thieves grabbing items left in plain sight or gaining access through unlocked doors to cars and homes. By not being diligent about locking up, citizens are providing thieves with an easy route to steal valuables.
Seventy-six percent of the cars that were burglarized in Richland had unlocked doors. Clearly, a little more diligence by car owners could have prevented many of these crimes. Let's not make it easy for them.
Beyond thefts and burglaries, gangs are responsible for a portion of the increased criminal activity. In Benton County, for example, the sheriff's department investigated six arsons where cars had been stripped and then burned to destroy evidence.
The other contributing factor to the jump in crime is domestic violence -- truly one of the most challenging forms of crime to combat. The major local crime stories in this newspaper have been dominated by cases of domestic violence, from a man just convicted of killing his former girlfriend, to the trial for a couple charged with killing the woman's mother, to a man who killed his sister -- leaving a mother to grieve the loss of one child to death and the other to prison.
One local police chief believes economic challenges could be contributing to crimes involving family members, with the stress of unemployment or strain of an empty bank account fueling family drama.
And while the crime rate here is still lower than most, police officials aren't planning to let it keep climbing. In various jurisdictions plans are in place to increase visibility in the community, create a database for stolen vehicles and increase collaborations among various groups, from school districts to homeowner associations.
We saw a 4 percent increase in residents from 2010 and 2011. As the Tri-Cities continues to grow, the crime rate is likely to climb in tandem with the population.
With more people to police and protect, law enforcement officials will need more resources to keep crime in check. And that is the next challenge.
We can all point to communities with the kind of reputation for crime that we never want to see here. An 11 percent increase in major crime is definitely cause for concern -- if not alarm.
If we want to keep it from getting any worse, we're going to have to find ways to get law enforcement the resources they need to keep our community safe and with the lowest crime rate possible.