Domestic violence calls plummeted but police calls to the Three Rivers Mall in Kelso skyrocketed last year, the latter trend a result of an improving economy, Kelso Police Chief Andy Hamilton said Tuesday.
Crime reports at the Three Rivers Mall rose 75 percent last year compared to the year before, according to the Kelso Police Department’s annual report presented to the City Council on Tuesday. In 2015 the mall expanded its cinemas from a four- to 12-screen theater. In 2014 new businesses like Sportsman’s Warehouse and Planet Fitness moved into the mall.
Last year showed the most reports from the mall that police have seen since 2009, shortly after the recession hit citizens’ pocket books. In 2011 crime reports from the mall dipped to 262 from 338 in 2010.
Hamilton said more people frequent the mall, and a fuller parking lot means more general calls for service. He said the increased calls for service didn’t come unexpectedly.
“Those lots Friday nights are just packed,” he said.
Then statistics obviously don’t reflect any impact from the imminent closure of Macy’s, a longtime mall anchor tenant that is shutting down March 26.
Offenses at the mall in general became more common, Hamilton said, such as fraud, vandalism, vehicle prowls or shoplifting. Others call police for non-criminal matters, like help finding their car. Hamilton estimated 1,200 calls for service total at the mall last year.
Total criminal offenses citywide last year increased 31 percent, from 1,172 to 1,534.
“We’re getting more calls, there’s no doubt about that,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton also discussed balancing increased calls for service with a “constant ebb and flow” of new hire and departing officers.
While Hamilton said the department is fully staffed with 20 patrol officers, two are still in training and three are off on sick or family medical leave, reducing that number to 15 patrol officers on staff. Four of them are eligible for retirement, Hamilton said.
Kelso police has 28 commissioned officers total, and that includes two drug task force officers, a school officer and administrative staff.
Concealed pistol applications, pistol transfer applications and public records requests all rose last year as well. Hamilton appealed to council members about the public records requests, which rose 11 percent last year compared to 2015, and said they can help by talking to their state legislators about the burden police face from the massive requests.
On the positive side, domestic violence arrests in Kelso decreased 47 percent — from 159 to 84 — compared to the year before. Hamilton said there could be a number of reasons that contribute to the dip, such as more awareness and harsher laws to punish the crime. Domestic violence can also often place officers in dangerous situations.
“It’s the highest priority for officers,” Hamilton said. “It is a call that officers don’t take lightly because it is such a volatile situation.”
Hamilton reviewed for the council the most prominent cases his officers responded to last year: The Bernie Altman homicide, officer-involved shootings in West Kelso and Rose Valley, home invasions on First and 12th avenues, a child sexual assault case that resulted in Ronald Cook’s life sentence, and calls for service related to homelessness.
Nationwide, law enforcement deaths last year rose to 140 compared to 125 the year before. Hamilton said last year showed an unprecedented number of police ambushes.
In other business Tuesday, City Council members on Tuesday night also approved changes to the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning code that allow denser housing development in West Kelso and a recreational marijuana facility on 2200 Talley Way.
They approved using $200,000 for an emergency project to repair a sewer line at Third Avenue and West Main Street. Work began March 15 after the city’s Public Works Department discovered a backup in the line.