Sunday morning, gunfire again echoed across 23rd Ave running through the Central District. Meanwhile, Capitol Hill was rocked by gun violence late last month after a man suffering a mental crisis was shot when he opened fire on police and, only days later in Cal Anderson, 21-year-old Hakeem Salahud-din was murdered with a single shot to the head in the busy central park. But city officials say more is being done to curb gun violence in Seattle and police department statistics show that the efforts might be working.
In a presentation to City Council last month prior to the latest rounds of violence, Seattle Police and city officials documented what we know about the city’s shootings and what is being done to prevent them. Instead of short-term efforts like “increase patrols,” the Seattle strategies outlined include addressing issues of equity and tackling problems around mental health.
Overall, Seattle shootings have continued to drop from recent levels with 41 through the first two months of the year — 2015, 2016, and 2017 all saw around 70 incidents by the end of February.
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The victims of the gun violence are disproportionately young and black — 52% of Seattle shooting victims in 2018 were black. Overall, whites made up only 30% of the city’s gun violence victims. We know less about the perpetrators. According to SPD statistics, around 45% of suspects were either unidentified or of unknown race.
But we know where the shootings are happening. SPD’s logs of shots fired incidents through 2016, 2017, and 2018 show clear “hot spots” around the core of the Central District, Beacon Hill, and South Seattle.
To address what are clearly regional issues within the city, SPD officials say they are focusing on increasing community engagement with neighborhood programs like Project Safe Neighborhoods, and Alive and Free, a partnership led by the YMCA of Greater Seattle that provides street outreach workers to connect at risk young people to city services.
SPD also continues to work with federal programs like the ATF-led Regional Gun Crime Task Force and the FBI Safe Streets Task Force. In 2018, SPD says it recovered 1,408 firearms with federal assistance — 10% more than the previous year.
To help curb access to firearms for people suffering a mental health crisis, SPD says the city’s Extreme Risk Protection Order program has also made important progress with 79 firearms seized last year from 27 individuals. The ERPO program was designed to give family, household members, and law enforcement a way to petition the court to restrict access for a person with mental health crisis issues to purchase or possess firearms. SPD says the domestic violence protection order program, meanwhile, recovered 137 guns in 2018, most in “voluntary compliance with DVPO court orders.”
SPD says it also hopes to make more progress in four areas:
- On-going collaboration with King County Prosecutor’s Office to track regional shots fired cases
- On-going participation with Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center
- Rule-making and evaluation partner on Safe Storage law
- Working with Washington DOC to provide extra outreach to high-risk offenders in the area
Another factor SPD notes when it comes to effectively knocking back gun violence. When it comes to homicides, at least, SPD detectives are better than average. “SPD consistently has a homicide clearance rate (9 year average of 68%) above the national average of 60%,” the presentation noted.