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Seattle sets new record for most homicides in a single year

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A teen boy shot in a South Seattle condo complex.

A pregnant woman gunned down in her car at a Belltown intersection.

A man shot in the abdomen inside an apartment building for senior citizens.

They’re among the 70 homicide victims in Seattle so far in 2023.

Seattle Police confirmed the homicide count with KUOW on Wednesday. It marks a new record for the most homicides in the city in a single year. Most of these deaths have been gun-related, according to records obtained from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office.

“This record trend of homicides is extremely concerning and shows there is more work to be done to keep Seattle residents and communities safe, take guns off our streets, and hold those who cause harm accountable for their actions,” Callie Craighead, a spokesperson for Mayor Bruce Harrell, said in an email.

Craighead said the mayor plans to work with the incoming City Council, which will be predominantly filled with first-time officeholders, to tackle these issues.

As KUOW reported earlier this year, Seattle’s previous high for homicides was in 1994. That year, authorities logged 69 homicides, according to figures compiled by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, which has tracked crime data from across the state over the past four decades.

RELATED: Seattle passes grim milestone with record high homicides

Seattle’s population has grown by more than 200,000 people since 1994, meaning the rate of homicides is lower in 2023 than it was back then.

But the raw number of homicides in Seattle has been rising the last few years, after cratering to a low of 16 back in 2016. The figure spiked during the pandemic and has remained relatively high. Here’s a recent snapshot of the change by year, according to the city's online crime dashboard:

  • 2022: 52 homicides
  • 2021: 43 homicides
  • 2020: 53 homicides
  • 2019: 36 homicides

Nationally, violent crime — including murders — fell slightly last year to pre-pandemic levels, according to an annual report published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

But that data is notoriously incomplete.

And several major cities, along with Seattle, saw overall increases in their murder rates throughout the pandemic years. Among them: New Orleans, San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., per an analysis of FBI data by the Brennan Center for Justice.

Seattle Police did not immediately offer an explanation for why the city’s homicides have hit a new high this year. Earlier in 2023, the department cited low staffing, a problem that has persisted for several years.

Callie Craighead, the spokesperson for Seattle’s mayor, said the city has made police staffing a policy priority. She also said the city will continue working with county and regional officials who focus on gun violence policies, and with local and regional community groups.

Craighead also mentioned that the mayor hopes to implement a pilot program for detecting gunshots, though the technology is controversial.

RELATED: Harrell seeks $1 million for controversial gunfire detection system

Ultimately, there’s no single solution to the issues Seattle is facing, said Casey McNerthney, a former crime reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer who now works in communications at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

“If you’ve got a problem with your house, like a leaky roof, you replace the shingles, replace the plywood, apply some caulking. There are concrete things you can do. But with homicides, there’s no easy answer. The more you look at it, the more complex the problem gets,” said McNerthney, who also writes for, a digital encyclopedia of Washington state history.

“Maybe the bright side is, the more the numbers get focused on, if the numbers keep going up, the more people will want to work collaboratively to figure it out,” he added.

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