Citations 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:
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:
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:
The 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):
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.