COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - Certain crimes like theft and burglaries are on the rise in the Idaho panhandle and the Kootenai County sheriff thinks the people behind some of those crimes are making a run across the border from Spokane to commit crimes.
The Idaho State Police reports that last year North Idaho posted a crime victim rate of 6,300 people for every 100,000 residents, more burglaries and thefts than were reported in more densely populated Boise.
The migration of crime across the state line started about a dozen years ago when Spokane made it harder for thieves to pawn their stolen goods, but these days North Idaho just represents a new and fertile hunting ground for crooks who don't mind doing a little commuting.
"It used to be we'd get some seasonal tourism here in the summer time but that's gone away. Now it's year round and those people become victims of crime as well," Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger said.
The sheriff estimates at any given time, 20 to 30 percent of the inmates inside his jail are not from Kootenai County but rather people who have previous arrests in place like Spokane. Crime always follows growth and several North Idaho towns, like Post Falls, are among the fastest growing in the state.
So to make sure Spokane criminals, who are familiar faces to patrol officers in Spokane, can't go unrecognized in North Idaho detectives on both side of the border are sharing a lot of information.
"We have [a] joint agency task force on violent crimes that's been working for several years. We all work very well together, we share computer systems so we're talking the same crooks, the same language all the time," Wolfinger said.
One way residents in Kootenai County can combat crime is to work with their neighbors to create active Block Watch programs.
"The neighborhood watch program,the Night Out America thing, that's a great catalyst to get that moving. I know in my neighborhood my neighbors, we talk all the time. who's going to be out of town, who's watching who, Who's taking care of the dog, who's picking up the mail , your neighbor is your best crime prevention tool," Wolfinger said.
The ISP crime report also had some good news for North Idaho residents as the number of crimes detectives are solving went up seven percent in 2013, arrests in Kootenai County are up 10 percent which means police and sheriff's deputies are proactively attacking the crime problem and, unlike Washington, Idaho actually has the third lowest violent crime rate in 13 western states.