The COVID-19 crisis and restrictions have had a chilling effect on one key factor to quality of life across Capitol Hill, the Central District, and Seattle — crime in the city has dropped, according to the Seattle Police Department’s own statistics.
Interim Chief Adrian Diaz’s first action in his new job was announcing a move of more officers to patrol to speed up 911 response across the city after a summer of complaints over slow arrivals and unavailability of officers due to staffing issues related to the summer’s ongoing protests and demonstrations. Starting today, some 100 officers were slated to be reassigned from speciality units to bolster the city’s 911 patrols.
They’ll likely be welcomed by residents and business owners frustrated by slow 911 wait times. But the numbers don’t match the complaints. Crime across all categories tracked by SPD was down nearly 12% across the city through August in comparison to the last two years of data.
In the East Precinct including Capitol Hill and the Central District, despite the massive influx of protesters, demonstrators, and campers during months of unrest and the CHOP occupied protest, crime is down 4% through August so far in 2020. In June during the height of CHOP, crime — including everything from animal cruelty to street robberies — dropped a whopping 14% from recent years across the precinct.
Why the disconnect between what happened and some of the messages around SPD’s patrol and staffing issues? SPD’s Sea Stat crime analytics are focused on a subset of the city’s crime categories ranging across the major issues like burglary, auto theft, assaults, and robberies. That Sea Stat prism tells a different story — in part.
In Seattle in 2020, Sea Stat crimes are down — but only 8% compared to the 12% total for the all-category count. And in the East Precinct, the Sea Stat view reveals one of SPD’s concerns — Sea Stat’s core crimes climbed 12% through August in the East Precinct, according to SPD’s reporting.
But you shouldn’t blame the protests and you can’t blame CHOP. Monthly trends of the Sea Stat numbers show that the climb in reported key crimes in the East Precinct was underway from the start of the year and actually returned closer to recent normal levels starting in June — again, when CHOP was at its height.
As for “normal” levels of crime, there are lots of ways to slice it. But, remember, most analysis agrees that the country’s crime rate continues to drop.
Another aspect of CHOP and complaints about the protests has been concern about property damage like vandalism and graffiti. Those numbers are, indeed, on the rise across the East Precinct. Mapping the 2020 data, however, shows an interesting aspect. The most frequent area for complaints so far in 2020 was lower on the Hill near downtown — not in the East Precinct beat covering Cal Anderson and near the East Precinct.
Meanwhile, that central core of the Hill clearly shows the highest 2020 concentration of crimes categorized as “violent” including homicides — five so far in 2020 compared to six all of last year — and assaults. But property crime reports are actually spread fully across Capitol Hill and the Central District. And while the neighborhood’s richest enclaves may worry the most about burglary, any anxiety about break-ins in 2020 should be concentrated along the Hill’s northeaster edge above I-5.
Starting today under Chief Diaz’s direction, there will be more police on Seattle’s streets. Many will applaud the move with hopes of a decrease in crime and street disorder. Mayor Jenny Durkan is also laying out changes for the force after the City Council’s push on SPD budget cuts and increased spending on social programs in the 2020 city budget. Durkan announced this week she’ll “move forward on bargaining out of order layoffs of 70 Seattle Police Department (SPD) sworn officers, suspend all the work of the Navigation Team charged with clearing encampments through the end of the year, and “move forward on funding community-based programs that provide alternatives to policing.” With those changes, many will worry about a rise in crime.
What is more likely, the numbers show, is that Seattle’s crime trends involve much larger, harder to control forces like infection rates, social contact, and employment. There is little even the best trained police officer on beat control can do about that.
NOTE: For all counts, we removed one category from analysis. Seattle saw a huge spike in May of reported fraud/bad check reports in May across the city. We’ll follow up on the anomaly but are not including the large spike in reports in our reporting because the volume of incidents confounds analysis of other trends.
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