With few specifics, Spokane sheriff attributes rise in crime to COVID-19 jail releases

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane County Sheriff has launched a new task force targeted at property crimes.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he’s seen a significant increase in property crimes across the board, and he’s blaming the COVID-19 pandemic because inmates were released from jail.

“After the release due to COVID, we’ve seen triple-digit crime increase,” the sheriff said. “We just released a lot of people; a lot of people that shouldn’t have been.”

During a press conference with the media, Knezovich stated multiple times that they have a list of names and arrest dates for the inmates and when they were re-arrested. However, that list wasn’t provided.

When asked about how they know the inmates being released are directly related to the property crime increase, Knezovich said, “Because we re-arrest them for the property crimes. It’s not a mystery. It’s very fluent.”

He also stated that prior to COVID-19, inmates were being released. The jail is ran by the Board of County commissioners, not the sheriff’s office.

Some of the numbers line up with an increase, but others tell a different story. The triple-digit increases are either since the beginning of the year or March 1. The shutdown didn’t start until mid-March.

From January 1 to April 25, business burglaries jumped from 45 to 118—a 162% increase. However, in the past two weeks, there’s been no rise.

Some areas though have seen a few jumps. In the same two-week time frame, home burglaries went up by six, but they’re actually down 27% since March 1. In a 56-day time span, garage burglaries went from 37 to 81, but part of the time period is outside the time when the shutdown started.

The sheriff believes there’s enough of a concern to start a task force.

“We’re going to go after our hardcore career criminals,” Knezovich said. “We want our community safe.”

The task force will be made up of deputies and others from different areas of the sheriff’s office. In the next few weeks, they’re going to map out a strategy to make arrests and see where the property crimes are happening.