Category Archives: Violent Crime Focus

A bizarre and tragic coincidence: there are two Israel Keyes

In August 2008, a former North Kitsap man named Israel W. Keyes was reported to have shot and killed his girlfriend, Alexia Laslo, and her son, Michael Tasako, before killing himself, in Sanders County, Montana. 

In a bizarre turn of events this week, a self-professed serial killer died in an apparent suicide in an Alaska jail this week. His name is also Israel Keyes, though he was 34.

The news this week made at least one Kitsap Sun reader wonder about the death. After doing some research, we can confirm that while strange and while tragic, there were two Israel Keyes, one who reportedly killed himself in Montana after shooting two people and another who died this week, after he disclosing to the FBI that he killed four people in Washington between 2001 and 2006.

Feds to consider changing archaic definition of rape

Scottish author Andrew Lang once said of a man: “He uses statistics like a drunk uses lamp-posts, more for support than illumination.”

Currently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is supporting its annual rape statistics with a rather archaic, 80-year-old definition critics have long argued needed to catch up with the times. Rape is defined as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will,” reports the New York Times.

That definition may soon be updated by the FBI, which will take up discussion on it this month, the Times reported Sept. 28.

Why does it matter?

It’s a matter of honesty. The FBI’s report is known as one of the best indicators of crime in the United States (and its latest report shows crime dropping in America again). If the police jurisdictions report rape to the FBI using a more modern definition, they won’t include those cases.

The Times sums up the what the FBI leaves out (Blogger’s warning: some readers might find this terminology disturbing):

(The FBI’s definition) … critics say, does not take into account sexual-assault cases that involve anal or oral penetration or penetration with an object, cases where the victims were drugged or under the influence of alcohol or cases with male victims. As a result, many sexual assaults are not counted as rapes in the yearly federal accounting.

I invited Claire Bradley, a chief deputy of the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office — and the current chair of Kitsap SAIVS (Special Assault Investigations and Victim’s Services) — to share her thoughts about updating the language. Bradley was also deputy prosecutor in the county’s special assault unit for eight years.

“I think, across the board, anyone who deals with sexual assault crimes would agree this is a good thing. Locally, our law enforcement, prosecutors and victim advocates already do a great job of responding to all types of sexual assault, not just the ones that would be classified as “rape” by these federal statistics. But, to the community as a whole, the classification of what is “rape” by federal statistical standards is absolutely misleading.

And, to me, the most important factor in this reclassification is that our victim advocacy programs rely on statistical data for grant funding. Our victim advocates serve so many more victims than the statistics would suggest, and so their funding is based on false numbers. I would love to see them be able to report actual, true numbers and receive more funding, that is actually representative of how many people they serve.”

Perhaps with an updated definition, the statistics provided by the FBI will become more illuminating for all of us.

Crime in America drops for fourth straight year

Crime has fallen again

The Federal Bureau of Investigation released today its annual report on crime in America in 2010 and, in a continuing trend now four years running — and really a long downward arc since the 1990s — crime is down across the board.

Murder is down 4.2 percent. Rape is down five percent. Aggravated assault is down 4.1 percent. Burglary’s down two percent. Arson? A 7.6 percent decline.

Criminologists sometimes peg high unemployment with higher crime rates. But that didn’t happen in the sluggish growth of 2010. I welcome your theories as to what’s going on there.

Some other tidbits from the FBI:

  • Total number of crimes reported: 10,329,135 (1,246,248 violent crimes and 9,082,887 property crimes);
  • Most common violent crime: aggravated assault (62.5 percent of all violent crimes during 2010);
  • Most common property crime: larceny-theft (68.2 percent of all property crimes during 2010);
  • Top three crimes for which law enforcement reported arrests: drug abuse violations (1,638,846), driving while intoxicated (1,412,223), and larceny-theft (1,271,410);
  • Total number of arrests, excluding traffic violations: 13,120,947, including 552,077 for violent crimes and 1,643,962 for property crimes (the number of arrests doesn’t reflect the number of individuals arrested—some individuals may have been arrested more than once);
  • Most common characteristics of arrestees: 74.5 percent of arrestees were male, and 69.4 percent of arrestees were white;
  • How often firearms were used in crimes: in 67.5 percent of reported murders, 41.4 percent of reported robberies, and 20.6 percent of aggravated assaults; and
  • Total losses for victims of property crimes, excluding arsons: an estimated $15.7 billion.

Salt Lake Tribune Follows up Walmart Gun Origin Story

The Salt Lake Tribune published Monday a followup to the story we wrote regarding the origin of the gun used by a Utah man at the Port Orchard Walmart in January.

From reporter Nate Carlisle’s story:

The sale of a gun used by a felon to kill a 13-year-old Utah girl and wound two sheriff’s deputies in Washington state earlier this year highlights the ambiguities associated with private firearms transactions.

Anthony A. Martinez already had at least three felony convictions when he purchased the .40-caliber Glock from a former Utah police cadet, according to Utah court records and documents released by prosecutors in Kitsap, Wash.

The felonies prevented Martinez from buying a gun from a licensed dealer. But the law gets trickier when there’s a transaction between two individuals.

Private parties selling guns are not required to conduct a background check on the buyer. But if the seller knows the buyer is prohibited from possessing a firearm, or reasonably should know, then the seller just committed a felony under federal law.

There is no evidence the sale to Martinez was illegal, nor was there evidence anyone was investigating.

Carlisle also attempted to contact the man who bought the gun originally and the man who sold it to Martinez. But neither attempt was successful.

DNA Testing Nets Washington State Record for Suspect ‘Hits’

The Washington State Patrol’s crime lab identified 379 suspects from DNA samples in 2010, a record.

Every offender in the state convicted of a felony, and even some gross misdemeanors and misdemeanors, has to submit a DNA sample, which goes into a database, the state patrol said Tuesday in a release. Sex and kidnapping offenders provide samples as well.

That database has grown to 194,000 people in its more than a decade of existence, so not surprisingly, more “hits” are coming back when police agencies around the state submit a DNA sample from a crime scene.

Here’s more from a news release by the state patrol:

In June of 2009 an unknown male robbed a grocery store in Spokane.  A wig and fake beard matching that worn by the suspect were discovered along the escape route and submitted to the crime lab.  DNA recovered from both items was linked to a convicted offender in the CODIS database. Due to a previous drug conviction in 2006, he had been required to provide a DNA sample for the database. Faced with the evidence, the suspect pled guilty to robbery in May 2010.

DNA testing completed by the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory Division resulted in a record 379 hits in 2010 using the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).  Since it was implemented over a decade ago, this crime-fighting tool has provided investigators with over 1,500 leads.

“This is about arresting and convicting the guilty, and clearing the innocent,” said WSP Chief John R. Batiste. “DNA is the most reliable way we’ve ever had for telling if someone was present at a crime scene.”

Located in Seattle, the WSP CODIS Laboratory receives approximately 1,400 convicted offender samples each month. The resulting database contains over 194,000 DNA profiles from Washington state offenders convicted of a felony, or certain gross misdemeanors and misdemeanors. State legislation also requires that registered sex and kidnapping offenders submit a DNA sample.

Samples from convicted criminals are compared regularly with DNA evidence retrieved from the scenes of more than 3,500 crimes statewide. Samples in the state database are also routinely searched against the nationwide CODIS database.

In 2010, over half of Washington’s CODIS hits were linked to burglary cases, while approximately 39% were hits in connection with violent crimes such as homicide, rape, robbery, and assault.

Of note is that 79% of the DNA hits were from convicted offenders whose profiles were in the database for typically less violent crimes, such as burglary or drug possession. This shows the value of capturing DNA from those convicted of less severe, mostly non-violent crimes.

In addition to being an all-time high, the 379 hits generated in 2010 equal a 47% increase over the 257 hits in 2009.  This marked increase is attributable to a number of factors, including a pilot project testing evidence from property crimes, and technology improvements implemented by the WSP Crime Laboratory Division.

“The CODIS program is a forensic time machine”, said Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau Director Larry D. Hebert.  “Our scientists use this powerful technology to link suspects to unsolved crimes, some of which were committed over 40 years ago.  CODIS is also used to link apparent unrelated cases to each other providing investigators with valuable information.”

Sheriff Boyer Stresses ‘Civility’ in Wake of Police Shootings

It was hard in January not to feel the force of numerous nationwide news stories chronicling violence around America — particularly against the police.

Here’s what happened, according to Meg Laughlin of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times:

The end of January has been a deadly time for police officers around the country. The shootings and killings — which felled 12 officers and a U.S. marshal’s deputy over five days — began with two Miami police officers being shot and killed on Jan. 20 while trying to serve an arrest warrant on a fugitive wanted for murder. Four days later, an Indianapolis officer was shot in the head during a traffic stop and died in the hospital.

The same day, four officers were shot in Detroit, two deputies in Port Orchard, Wash., and another officer in Lincoln City, Ore. Then, Monday morning in St. Petersburg, two police officers and a U.S. marshal’s deputy were shot while attempting to serve an arrest warrant at a home. The two officers died.

Which raises the question: Even as overall violent crime is declining across the nation, is this sudden rash of police shootings the beginning of an era marked by an escalation of brazen, cold-blooded cop killers?

With a half a month’s distance from the violence, the tide of shootings has subsided — though any officer would tell you there’s no such thing as a routine traffic stop.

I asked Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer what he made of the violent January, of which his deputies too were violently attacked:

“I’m hoping the increase in frequency of police involved shootings is not a long term trend,” he said. “It does worry me that it seems like people are attacking our institutions, attacking the symbols of our society.”

“I think civility needs to be stressed more.”

What could have caused the surge? Was it just random? Slate has an interesting piece out about “predictive policing.” Perhaps, as it points out, police shootings — or rather people lashing out violently against authority — could be like an earthquake, in which there are initial tremors, a big incident and aftershocks.

Turning A Corner on Crime: Bremerton Police Captain Reflects

Blogger’s Note: Today is the first installment in an occasional series examining how far Bremerton has come in reducing its state-high violent crime rate. Our guest blogger is Bremerton Police Captain Tom Wolfe, who’s seen the city then and now. The initial installment can be read here.

“I started working in Bremerton as a police officer in the summer of 1988. I worked a lot on foot downtown in the beginning, and spent the next eleven years working some form of night shift, with three of those assigned to the gang unit when gangs hit their high water mark.

Two years ago, as I stood at First Street and Washington Avenue at 9:45 p.m. on a pleasant summer night, it hit me just how far we have come.  I could visualize the brawls that spilled out of the numerous bars. I still remember hearing and seeing all available Bremerton, (Kitsap) County and (Washington) State units gathering to quell the mini-riots. I remember a sailor slumped against the wall of the old Popeye’s Tavern after having just been shot. The guy in the trench coat with the shotgun running down Front Street. Knife fights. Cat fights. You name it.

That vision was interrupted by a little girl and her parents walking by eating ice-cream cones. All the bumps and bruises and trips to the ER suddenly seemed worth it. We had fought to keep the peace on the streets and now they are peaceful, at least most nights. The police department formed a gang unit in the early 90’s to combat violent gang issues. We took officers and took aim at the biggest problem in the city, untying them from responding to 911 calls. And it worked.

Bremerton has some factors working against it, but the one thing it has had as long as I have been here is men and women who think outside of the box and are creative problem solvers. We have never had the equipment other departments have, or the number of officers. Instead we have had more calls and higher crime rates than those well-to-do agencies, so we have adapted and overcome.  I remember listening to a commander from another agency bemoaning his lack of budget and manpower issues. When I showed him our budget, manpower and call volume his jaw dropped: “How do you guys do it?” he asked.

In 2005, when Chief Craig Rogers took over, we still had the dubious distinction of being number one most violent city in Washington per capita, three years running in at least the top three.  Rogers’ focused policing program, working to put extra officers on the street and untie them from going 911 call to 911 call, has paid big dividends. Our violent crime rate has dropped significantly.

The other program that has impacted the city the most is the landlord notification program. We have, above all, been willing to try new things — i.e. the red light cameras. Like them or hate them, you have to look at the reason we put them there, to make our streets safer.  The accident rates have dropped and we have not experienced a fatality at our worst intersections since they went in.

With the drug culture shifting from crack cocaine to meth we have taken on new drug issues.  The city remains largely rental-oriented and that creates unique problems as well. But I look at where we were 23 years ago and what we have been able to accomplish and I can honestly say we are turning the corner. We have made so many positive impacts and changes that we can show results for. I think the next ten years will tell the tale for certain. And we will be here pushing the city around the corner, dragging it if need be.”

Tracking the Homicide: How Police Investigate the Most Serious of Crimes

Kitsap County’s local detectives are acutely aware they’re on the clock when called to the scene of a mysterious death.

“If you haven’t ID’d a suspect in the first 72 hours, the chances of solving a case dramatically decrease,” said Bremerton Detective Sgt. Kevin Crane.

I interviewed Crane and other investigators for Sunday’s story and database about Kitsap’s cold cases. We used the information I gathered for a graphic in the paper, but I wanted to go into greater detail. Here’s what I learned.

Day or night, Crane, and other detective supervisors are on call for the city’s most serious crimes. He’s ended vacations early to get to the scene of a fresh and suspicious death.

Homicide investigations most often start with the line officer who’s responding to a 911 call. If the victim is alive, the priority is saving a life. But if deceased, with no hope of resuscitation, the scene is “frozen” — no one comes and goes without police permission and a log is kept of those who do — and crime scene tape secures its perimeter, Crane said.

Detectives arrive and are briefed by patrol officers. Two crime scene investigators begin from the perimeter of the scene and moving inward, documenting with video and camera and looking for anything out of the ordinary. Yellow markers are placed at any point — shell casings, clothing, blood spatter, for instance — they see as suspicious. Every piece of evidence is eventually sealed and and placed in evidence at the police department. The name and date of each person who examines it is kept in a log.

Investigating the body won’t begin until the scene is “processed” by the crime scene investigators. At that point, detectives, who manage the crime, bring in the Kitsap County coroner’s office, which manage the body. They investigate it together, Crane said.

The wound or wounds are examined, photographed and measured. Investigators look for “defensive” wounds that would indicate a struggle.

A critical task is identifying the deceased. Seemingly simple, it’s not always apparent and may require investigating in its own right. Perhaps they’re not carrying ID, or more gruesomely, they can’t be identified because of a fire.

Meanwhile, at least two detectives is busy with interviews, talking with those who may have witnessed the crime or the area around it.

They’ll also set out to canvass the neighborhood, attempting to find anyone who heard or saw anything.

While technology has rapidly advanced in homicide investigations, there’s one way they haven’t changed.

“It’s people,” Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Detectives Dave White said. “We’re still talking to people.”

Detectives will ask if the witnesses knew the deceased, and begin to establish a so-called “victimology.” Detectives will seek to paint a picture of the victim working backwards from their moment of death. Where did they go? Why were they there? And of course, who were they with?

“These can be very long, tedious investigations,” Crane said.

At various points during the investigation, detectives stop and exchange information. Crane then compiles a new task list.

From there, it’s a matter of chasing down leads. All day and all night they work, stopping sometimes for a few hours’ sleep in those first critical three days.

Investigating a homicide is really no different than any other crime, only “they’re more tedious and you leave no stone unturned,” Crane said.

Kitsap’s Unsolved Homicides: Will Justice Ever Come?

From 1960 to 2010 there have been at least 29 people murdered in Kitsap County whose killers were never brought to justice.

Behind the scenes, some of us at the Kitsap Sun have been hard at work compiling a database of these unsolved crimes. We’ve done so, if nothing else, for posterity’s sake. But we also harbor a hope that perhaps someday, these crimes could be solved, the culprits brought to justice, and the families of the victims given a degree of solace in that apprehension.

We’ve listed the phone numbers of the law enforcement agencies handling these so-called “cold cases,” just in case someone out there knows something. Please browse the names and faces. You never know — it could help solve a homicide.

Click here for the database. And on Sunday, look for a special report on the unsolved homicides of Kitsap County.

Bremerton Crime: Has the City Turned A Corner?

Sifting through our story archives Wednesday, I came across a story by Sun reporter JoAnne Marez from the early nineties entitled, “City in a drug war.”
She was referring to Bremerton.
She writes of violent, fatal clashes between gangs and turf wars between rival drug dealers. Here’s a clipping:
“On South Montgomery Avenue the remnants of a once respectable, middle class Bremerton neighborhood still are visible. An elderly couple putters in their yard, tending their neatly clipped lawn, watering their flowers. Here and there, a homeowner paints his house or mends a fence.
But down the block, in either direction, things have changed.
At one end sits a nondescript house with a weed-choked yard, the scene of a violent clash last December over drug turf. When it was over, two teen-age crack dealers lay bathed in their own blood.
At the other end, Bremerton police fight a seemingly never-ending battle to force crack peddlers from the street. Drive-by shootings and assaults have become commonplace.
South Montgomery is perhaps a symbol of the urban decay and escalating violence that threatens Bremerton’s once tranquil neighborhoods.”
Has it gotten better since then? Just four years ago, I wrote of Bremerton’s state high rate of violent crime per capita (the graphic from the story is pictured). But in doing the story, I found that most residents feel safe here, despite these facts as I wrote them:
“A city of renters. A city with heavy drug use. A city with nighttime drunkards who like to brawl. A city with an understaffed police force. A city whose local jail has a “revolving door.” A city whose landlords allegedly ignore their renters’ criminal activity.

Many factors can be blamed for Bremerton’s violent crime rate, one that’s emerged in the past 12 years as the highest in the state.”

More recently, however, Bremerton’s crime rate has headed south. Renewing its downtown core and fighting crime in new ways are believed to have helped.

In the coming weeks, I expect to get the statistics about crime in Bremerton and see just how the city is faring in criminal activity. I suspect crime is falling in Bremerton.

But I’m curious: how far do you think we’ve come from that “City in a drug war,” Marez wrote about?