Special Reports

Franklin tops state's murder rate

The auto body shop slaughter Tuesday night likely ensures that Franklin County will retain the dubious distinction of having Washington state's highest murder rate, Prosecutor Dennis DeFelice said.

The prosecutor announced in September that the county's seven homicides in 1986 gave it Washington's highest rate per person.

Franklin County already had six homicides this year when the massacre at Medina's Body Shop took race.

"If seven made us No. 1 last year, looks like 11 would probably put us No. l in 1987," be said.

The statistic is just one of many cited by beleaguered law officers.

Dennis DeFelice, who took office in January, often notes that he and his attorneys are filing a rapidly increasing number of cases while county cutbacks have reduced his staff.

The prosecutor's office filed 227 felony cases in 1985 when the average caseload for superior court prosecutors was 56. With fewer attorneys, the present rate of felony filings will total 380 for 1987 - bringing the caseload per prosecutor to 127 by the end of the year, he said.

Pasco officers also noted during contract negotiations that their annual caseload of 77 serious crimes per officer was among the top five in a study of West Coast cities.

Three of the other five were high-crime areas around major cities, officers said.

Kennewick, with 64 serious crimes per officers, finished 22nd on the list. Richland, with 25, was in 230th place.

City and county leaders are sympathetic, but say their budgets are not.

Ken MilIer, chairman of the Franklin County commissioners, notes that the average daily population of the jail has risen from 70.7 inmates in October 1986 to 84.5 last month.

"It's all these drugs and things that are pouring down on us," he said, predicting that the daily Court will continue to rise. "I suspect we'll bust a hundred next year."

"We're going broke. And, directly, you can point a finger at this (the crime rate)."

A variety of other figures also appear to support Franklin County's claim of an unusual problem. They include:

- Pasco's violent crime rate of about 12 per 1,000 residents each year a total of 215 in 1986. That's almost double the city's rate in 1983, when there were 127 violent offenses, for a rate of 6.6 per 1,000 population.

Kennewick, with nearly twice Pasco's population, had half the cases of violent crime 126 in 1986. That rate of 3.4 per 1,000 14 up from 2.2 in 1983.

Richland's rate dropped during the same period, from 1.9 per 1,000 in 1983 to 1.6 in 1986. In Washington state overall, the rate rose from 1.3 to 2.1 violent crimes per 1,000 people.

- Drug cases, which are increasing in sheer numbers and as a percentage of all cases filed by DeFelice's office.

Out of 289 felonies filed in 1986, 95 (33 percent) were for drug offenses. Prosecuting attorneys had already filed 252 cases in the first eight months of 1987. Of those, 122 (48 per, cent) were for drug offenses.

If filings continue at that rate, De DeFelice reported, his office will have logged 380 cases this year.

Counties must pay for much of the jail time, court fees and defense of many drug-related prisoners.

"You see how they deal with $50,000, but when they come in here they're 'broke,' " DeFelice said. "If you or anybody else can figure how we can afford this ... let me know."

Miller has said in the past the would like the state to fund more costs of prosecuting and sentencing persons convicted of narcotics offenses. He asked Gov. Booth Gardner last spring to fund a study of Franklin County's drug-related crime.

"It keeps falling on deaf ears," he said. "Maybe what happened (Tuesday) night will open a few eyes to what we've been talking about."

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