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Seattle gun violence surges in 2021, as police force dwindles

Whatever statistic you look at, one thing is clear: gun violence continues to trend ever higher in Seattle.

That was the message from city leaders who joined Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz Tuesday morning for a special press briefing on the steep rise in shootings around Seattle.

This comes after yet another violent weekend with at least six shootings, two of which were deadly. Police investigated another shooting Tuesday morning in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, which injured one person near 10th Avenue and John Street.

“People need to put down their guns,” Diaz said. “Early this morning a man was shot in downtown Settle. In this case, an armed-robbery victim opened fire, apparently in self-defense, shooting and killing the armed suspect. This past weekend, we had multiple shooting incidents, with two people losing their lives as a result. So far, year-to-date, there have been over 100 additional shootings compared to the same time last year in 2020. About 150 more than in 2019. We’ve recovered over 2,000 gun casings. Last year we recovered over 2,500 gun casings.”

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Overall gun violence in Seattle is on the rise. There were 420 gunfire cases in all of 2020, and 370 such incidents have occurred so far in 2021. Police say they're concerned the city is on track to record more shootings this year than the previous year.

Diaz said Tuesday morning that Seattle's gun violence issue has many layers and causes; it requires range of investments to address it.

“We are not just seeing an increase in gun violence among youth,” Diaz said, adding that gun incidents in Seattle are not entirely driven by gang violence. “We are seeing an increase in gun violence in our homeless encampments, we are seeing an increase in road rages and gun incidents."

Diaz said there's a need for more mental health resources to help address the gun violence.

"We need investments in a variety of different areas that aren’t necessarily where police can take a visible presence," he said. "I think that it really is two things: we have to make sure we have the amount of officers needed to provide public safety across the whole city, but we also need to make sure we continue those long terms efforts to prevent future levels of violence.”

Diaz pointed to a reported 40% increase in 911 calls to the Seattle Police Department for shots fired in 2021, compared to the same time last year. He further noted that drive-by shootings are up 100%.

During the press conference Tuesday, Diaz reported:

  • There have been 150 more shootings in 2021 than in 2019.
  • More than 380 shots fired in 2021.
  • 278 shots fired incidents with no injuries.
  • 35 homicides so far in 2021 (two are delayed deaths, meaning they were injured last year, but died in 2021).
  • SPD has recovered more than 700 guns in 2021 (about 100 were collected in August alone). Chief Diaz said the department is on pace to recover about 1,000 this year.
  • 104 shooting incidents that resulted in victims; a total of 135 victims overall.
  • 24 individuals have been arrested for gun-related offenses over the past month. So far in 2021, 14 people have been arrested for homicides.

As of Aug. 13, King County reported 24 homicides in 2020. With four months to go in 2021, the sheriff's office has logged 22 murders so far. In June, KUOW reported that gun homicides were up 36% so far in 2021, compared to the past four-year average.

The 2021 numbers come after concern was prompted in 2020 over what was already seen as record-breaking statistics.

At the same time, Diaz pointed out that Seattle has lost a considerable number of police officers over the past year and a half. He estimated that patrol officers are spending 60 to 65% of their time responding to 911 calls, which limits the time he'd like to see them engaging with the community and developing local relationships.

RELATED: Seattle Mayor Durkan calls for more officers after string of deadly shootings

Diaz said that Seattle needs at least 1,400 police officers to handle the public safety needs of the city. The city is a few hundred officers short of that number.

According to an SPD spokesperson, the department has lost nearly 300 police officers over the past 20 months. Currently, Seattle has about 1,100 officers.

City Councilmember Alex Pedersen was also present during the press conference. He said that police staffing will be an issue discussed when the Council begins setting its budget in mid-September. He added that he wants to dedicate more money toward recruiting and maintaining police officers.

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Seattle's police budget made headlines last year as the Defund SPD movement gained support on the dais. So this issue will likely come up again as the Council begins budget discussions in September.

Last year, while many called for a 50% reduction in SPD funding, the Council cut about 18% of its money. Much of these reductions were accomplished by moving duties that are largely staffed by civilians (such as the 911 call center) out of under SPD's purview and into civilian-led departments.