JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD — With more soldiers stationed there than ever before, more crime was reported last year at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The base recorded new highs last year for misdemeanors and for offenses involving driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, according to statistics released to The News Tribune of Tacoma.
Felonies and domestic violence were also up last year compared with the previous year, but they were down significantly compared with 2008.
The statistics reflect crimes committed on and off base.
Lewis-McChord has 34,000 active-duty soldiers. That’s 15,000 more service members than were stationed there early last decade, and a jump from prior years as soldiers returned from deployment.
“We did not see any increase in crime that we do not normally attribute to the increase in population,” said Col. Bob Taradash, Lewis-McChord’s top military police officer.
Last year, Lewis-McChord recorded 4,874 misdemeanor offenses, up from 3,812 in 2010 and the previous high of 4,181 in 2008, just after the base’s large infantry brigades returned from Iraq. The number reflects an increasing number of soldiers failing drug tests.
Felony offenses increased slightly, to 319 from 310. Felonies peaked at 413 in 2008.
Domestic violence reports also were down from 2008. The base recorded 402 domestic incidents in the 2011 fiscal year, down from 501 in 2008. Incidents of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs rose to 391, up from 366 last year. That’s a relatively small increase given that thousands more soldiers were at Lewis-McChord in 2011 than in 2010 because of deployment cycles.
Those crimes could have greater consequences as the Army cuts 80,000 troops nationally. A recent Army report notes that commanders have an opportunity to retain their best soldiers and “de-select” ones who are not up to rising standards.
“In the last 10 years of persistent conflict, we’ve had to keep up numbers,” said Col. Steve Bullimore, chief of staff for the I Corps at Lewis-McChord. “The shoe’s on the other foot now, and if you want to re-enlist, it has to be earned.”
More deployments are set for this year, so fewer soldiers will be on base. One Stryker brigade recently went to Afghanistan. Another has trained for an Afghanistan deployment and awaits its orders.
The data also show that more South Sound soldiers died last year by suicide or in accidents at home than were killed in combat last year, a shift that foreshadows the Army’s challenges as it unwinds from two long wars.
Nine soldiers died in Afghanistan and none in Iraq — because the base’s largest units spent much of the year at home following major deployments in 2009-10. Twelve soldiers took their own lives at home, and four were killed while speeding on their motorcycles.
Lewis-McChord police officers are collaborating with local law enforcement to head off crimes committed by soldiers.
“They’re real open to having us out there,” said Washington State Patrol spokesman Trooper Guy Gill, who was alarmed by the four fatal motorcycle accidents. Gill visits the base to discuss traffic laws and the consequences of drunken driving.
Every weekend, two crews of Army noncommissioned officers put on their uniforms and visit popular clubs in Tacoma and Lakewood to look for soldiers who might drink too much and get out of hand — patrols modeled after programs the Army uses at its foreign bases.