Stats show major drop in policing activity by Seattle cops

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 3.47.11 PMCitations for violations of the law in Seattle have dropped dramatically from 2004-2013 and officers are doing considerably less proactive policing, according to a report recently released by the Seattle Police Department in a briefing to the new Community Police Commission.

While many are saying the datasets require more study and discussion, the numbers reveal a major shift in policing results in the city and major signs of inequity in how Seattle Police now respond to simple crimes like consuming alcohol in public, smoking violations or traffic crimes. In Seattle Municipal Court, filings for non-traffic violations (theft, assault, trespass, etc.) have dropped 49%. The report also shows blacks are disproportionately cited for nearly all of the top minor infractions in the city.

The numbers were presented in a regular report to the Community Police Commission, which receives periodic data to determine if minorities are being disproportionately cited for criminal activity (they are). SPD officials did not offer any reasons for the trends, which occurred during a federal investigation into the department’s use of force and targeting of minorities.

CHS recently used a different data set to show Capitol Hill’s East Precinct is seeing an increasing percentage of the city’s trespass incidents. We’ll be looking for connections between the two datasets soon.

As calls for service have steadily increased in recent years, Seattle police officers have been increasingly less likely to initiate action on their own. “On-View” cases — referring to incidents starting with an SPD officer seeing a potential crime occurring — have dropped precipitously:

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The drop in on-view totals is particularly interesting as SPD has integrated predictive policing software and strategies into its patrol schedules.

Meanwhile, the dataset also yields some interesting discoveries about how policing varies across the city. Only 3.3% of residents in Capitol Hill’s East Precinct had one or more cases referred to Seattle Municipal Court in 2013, the second lowest percentage of the city’s five precincts:

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More elements of the report seem to reflect the overall drop in enforcement. The annual number of bookings in King County Jail has fallen off dramatically in recent years, dropping 51% from 2001-2013:

Booking King county jailThe data showed that blacks, which only represent 7.6% of the city’s population, are disproportionately cited for nearly all minor infractions, including drugs, obstruction, and traffic violations. The infractions whites were disproportionally cited for? Bicycling, boating, and noise (colored blocks represent varying degrees of disproportionality):

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 3.25.39 PM Racial Disparity

Other interesting data points:

  • Those who reside outside Seattle were responsible for half of the soliciting prostitution citations and a quarter of the public urination citations.
  • The average age of those cited for public drinking in 2013 was 42-years-old, the highest average among the top 15 violations.
  • In 14 of the city’s 15 most cited violations, the Capitol Hill’s East Precinct represented a smaller percentage of those citations than both West and North Precincts.
  • Nearly half of all individuals in the city had 10+ cases in Seattle Municipal Court from 2004-2013 were black.
  • Liquor and pedestrian infractions represented 79% of all minor citations from 2004-2013.

The new report surfaces as Seattle’s search for a new police chief has entered a final stage in an effort to find a new leader for a beleaguered force battered by a reputation for improper use of force and its long battle with the Justice Department.

17 thoughts on “Stats show major drop in policing activity by Seattle cops

  1. This report confirms what many of us have been observing….that there is a large increase in “quality-of-life” infractions like encampments on public property, drinking in public, urination, aggressive panhandling, etc. Is there any wonder why this is happening, when the police take a hands-off approach to such incidents?

    The “broken windows” phenomenon is in full view in our neighborhood, unfortunately. And the police just twiddle their thumbs and look the other way.

  2. I’ve been on Summit Ave. since 2006 and have to say I prefer it the way it is now. Probably more homeless getting into the buildings etc now, but on the other hand I haven’t been hassled by the police for anything in years, where it does seem like back in the day they were always lurking around ready to jump out and write some generally law abiding person up for one BS thing or another. Also my sense of it is that jaywalking tickets have to be way down as well. After nearly being mowed down in the crosswalk at Bellevue and Olive a few years ago, I stopped relying on cross walks or signals altogether and just walk and cross whenever and wherever I want (after looking both ways) and I’ve yet to be hassled about it. Which btw is a very liberating (and much safer than cross walking) experience that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in pedestrian safety or efficient navigation of the cityscape…

  3. I’m curious how much of this drop is related to the city’s decision some years back to stop arresting/citing people for simple marijuana possession? I know that the decline cannot be completely attributed to this policy change, but I thought it was worth pointing out. Maybe some of this decline is “by design”?

  4. The shift happened approximately 6 years ago when Seattle elected a lame duck to run the City Attorney’s office. Slowly this one person began to erode officer’s confidence and ability to enforce Seattle Municipal Code. Today most cops will not take enforcement action on Muni BS because there is no support from the attorney’s office. DWLS- not enforced, Drinking, pissing in public-not enforced, jaywalking, bike infractions- not enforced, anything muni related- forget about it. Hope the new chief can change things but I doubt it.

    Although be careful about wishing for more enforcement, you may just get it.

    • I think you’re right that a root cause is the City Attorney and his non-enforcement stance. A Community Police Officer recently told me exactly this….the police don’t bother to enforce the misdemeanor laws because they know the City Attorney will not back them up. And so we now see all the rampant dysfunctional/illegal behavior on our streets.

      We need a new police chief who will do things differently, and a City Attorney who will actually enforce our laws.

  5. Those of us who live in high crime neighborhoods in or around the Central District do not need a study to tell us that the SPD and the city attorney, Peter Holmes, do not enforce the law.

    While we have gotten some police attention after a string of violent shootings, it can’t make up for the years of complete neglect. The gangs operated openly and with impunity. Drug dealing, fighting in the street, firing guns, and vandalizing property, were daily incidents around our house. The police rarely came after 911 calls.

    • The police don’t proactively work to reduce crime in the CD lest they be called “brutal” or engage in profiling. Criminals and gang members are well aware that they have the upper hand at present.

      • This report has nothing to do with shootings, fighting in the streets, drug dealing, or “gang members”.

        Its shoplifting, trespass, drinking in public, parks trespass, etc. type citations that are way down. Offenses that are better dealt with by putting money towards addressing the root causes of homelessness and maladaptive behaviors.

        Of course violent crime has been consistently declining for 25+ years so your calls for increased law and order ring hollow regardless.

  6. Pingback: Murray picks O’Toole as police chief to reshape SPD | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

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