Washougal Police release annual report; say vehicle thefts on the rise

Ford trucks top Washougal’s ‘most stolen’ list; drug-related calls decreased in 2021

Washougal’s latest police statistics show vehicle thefts climbed in 2021, while drug-related arrests declined.

The Washougal Police Department recently released its annual report outlining arrests and types of police calls for service in 2021. The department recorded 43 cases of motor vehicle theft last year, a 59 percent increase over 2020’s numbers..

“If you look at the numbers, 27 to 43, it’s not a huge (increase),” Washougal Police Chief Wendi Steinbronn told Washougal City Council members during the Council’s March 28 workshop. “However, if you look at the prior years — 28 in 2017, 25 in 2018 and 20 in 2019 — that’s statistically significant for our area.”

The increase follows a statewide trend. In January and February 2021, 4,552 vehicle thefts were recorded statewide, according to the Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC). In January and February 2022, the number of vehicle thefts in the state nearly doubled to 8,320.

“I do believe that Washougal is part of the increase statewide,” Steinbronn told The Post-Record. “WASPC hasn’t released the 2021 report yet, but the Seattle Police Department has released their annual crime report, and I recall that Vancouver Police Department has reported a similar increase.”

Steinbronn said nearly half (46%) of the vehicles stolen in Washougal in 2021 were Ford trucks — with the Ford F250 model standing out as an especially popular target — and that most of the stolen vehicles were taken overnight from the owner’s driveway or yard.

“Transportation and profit are the motivations,” Steinbronn said. “Profit comes when they can steal a vehicle or take it somewhere and strip all the valuable parts off and either sell them or trade them for drugs. And many of those arrested had a lot of history of theft and drug addiction. Obviously, they’re stealing to support their drug addiction.”

Drug-related calls decline; overdoses remain unchanged

While vehicle thefts rose in 2021, Washougal’s number of drug-related calls decreased.

Washougal police received a total of 37 drug-related service calls in 2021 compared to 62 in 2020. Likewise, the local police department made 13 arrests for drug-related offenses in 2021, compared to 84 in 2020.

“Our narcotics calls and arrests are down significantly,” Steinbronn said. At the same time, drug overdoses in Washougal have remained stable over the past few years, the police chief said: “Overdoses have remained relatively flat. We’re not seeing any crazy trends there.”

Steinbronn attributed the decrease in narcotics calls to a 2021 Washington Supreme Court ruling that the state’s felony drug possession statute is unconstitutional “and more specifically related to the fact that we are now required to refer people to treatment in lieu of arrest.”

“The issue is that the recovery navigator systems aren’t completely in place, so we end up continuing to give out referrals past the two that are required,” Steinbronn said. “I see an arrest as an intervention. If we are not arresting people, then that intervention isn’t happening. As a consequence, since drugs aren’t ‘free’ and the treatment referral system isn’t complete, people who suffer from drug addiction are going to continue to engage in theft to support their habit.”

Steinbronn is a member of a policy coordinating group for a recovery navigator program in Clark County “that has just begun to meet.”

“I’m hoping we get this in place soon,” she said.

Washougal police field more calls per officer than Camas, Battle Ground

The 2021 Washougal police report showed the police department responded to 21 sex offenses, four robberies, 172 assaults, four kidnappings, 37 burglaries, four arsons, 219 larcenies and one extortion case in 2021. The city had no murders last year.

The department also received 495 animal control calls in 2021, a 52 percent decrease from the 1,023 animal-related calls it received in 2020. The number of animal impounds and returns, however, remained virtually identical to the previous year.

“We had an animal control officer resign (last year),” Steinbronn said. “We had a significant drop-off of calls, but I don’t think the calls are dropping off so much as what we’ve been able to respond to. We impound dogs much more than they do in Camas. I don’t know why that is.

Although Washougal police had nearly 10 percent fewer calls for service in 2021 than in 2020 (10,056 calls in 2021 compared to 11,016 calls in 2020), Steinbronn said the department still averages more calls per officer than nearby police departments.

“Even with that downward adjustment … we’re still taking significantly more calls for service than our peer agencies,” Steinbronn told Washougal City Council members during their March 28 meeting.

The Washougal Police Department received 1,006 calls per officer (CPO) in 2021, almost twice as many as the Camas Police Department’s 512 CPO. In 2020, Washougal received 1,084 calls per officer (CPO) compared to 572 CPO in Camas 799 CPO in Battle Ground.

“The good news is that our average response time is still under five minutes in all categories, which is pretty good,” Steinbronn said. “A lot of it has to do with the 6.8 square miles in our patrol area to respond to — we can get pretty much anywhere within five minutes.”