Tacoma's Deadliest Year in at Least Four Decades Was 2021, But This Year Is Already Worse


New findings released this week in the investigation of a deadly house fire in December pushed Tacoma's homicide count to 34 for 2021. According to state crime records dating back to 1980, the city has never had so many killings.

Until this year.

As of Thursday afternoon, Tacoma has recorded 35 homicides in 2022. That's two more than were recorded in 1994 and 1988, according to annual reports from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. Homicides in those years were at the height of a crime wave fueled by gang violence, drugs and drive-by shootings. It's less clear now what factors are behind the surge in killings, but it follows a national trend of increased violent crime since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a written statement to The News Tribune, Mayor Victoria Woodards said she, like others in the city, is "saddened and frustrated" by the violence. She said these crimes cause ripples of trauma affecting families, first responders and the community.

"Although we will not see dramatic changes overnight, we have placed an immediate focus on substantially increasing police visibility at places where violent crime is concentrated, and prioritized street-level deterrence in these areas," Woodards said.

Although the number of killings has increased since the '80s and '90s, the homicide rate per 100,000 people has declined. In 1988, Tacoma's population was about 161,400, according to WASPC, putting it at about 20.4 homicides per 100,000 people. The homicide rate in 1994 was 18.0.

Last year, the city had a population of about 214,700, making its homicide rate 15.8 per 100,000.

All but one of the victims of homicide this year died in shootings (34). Of those, three were incidents where a police officer fatally shot a person. Last year, there were no fatal police shootings in the city.

The deaths are scattered throughout Tacoma, but mapping shows the majority occurred in neighborhoods southeast of Interstate 5, in the South End and Eastside, which account for 20 homicides. South Tacoma has recorded eight. The Hilltop neighborhood has had three, and downtown has seen four killings.

The tightest concentration of lethal violence has occurred along a half-mile stretch of South Hosmer Street, a commercial corridor of the South End home to nearly 40 percent (9) of Tacoma's 23 licensed hotels. Five homicides have been reported on the street, all connected to lodging establishments. A recent News Tribune investigation tells the stories of those who live and work there, and it shows how the area came to be a "battleground in a desperate fight against rising crime."

Tacoma Police Chief Avery Moore has made addressing violent crime a focus of his first months in the position. He started in mid-January, coming to Tacoma from the Dallas Police Department, where he was the assistant chief for the Investigations Bureau. Moore has said he wants to make Tacoma "the safest city in the country."

Moore unveiled his plan to reduce violent crime at a City Council study session in July. The plan was developed with help from criminologists from the University of Texas, and it has three phases: hot-spot policing, place-based improvements and focused deterrence. A representative from TPD was not available Thursday to comment on Tacoma's surge in homicides.

Woodards made reference to aspects of Moore's plan in her statement to The News Tribune, saying it uses evidence-based strategies that have been successful in other cities. She also said the city would increase funding for "intervention programs" and that it is working with community stakeholders to address underlying conditions contributing to violent crime.

"As we implement the plan, we will also be focusing on deterrence and efforts to break the cycle of violence among the small number of repeat and high-risk offenders who are responsible for committing most of the violent crime in Tacoma," Woodards wrote.