Wednesday night’s virtual meeting of the East Precinct Advisory Council brought community members fatigued by ongoing pandemic restrictions and months of protest together with Seattle Police officials who described the situation around crime in the East Precinct as a “perfect storm.”
SPD brought statistics to back up its claims including what the department says is a near 13% rise in overall crime in the East Precinct. That’s in line with CHS’s report on summer crime trends that showed overall crime down but the core, most serious crimes up 12% in a surge that began in January well before the pandemic and protests set in.
Focusing on the most serious crimes that SPD uses for its statistical analysis like assaults, burglaries, and vehicle related crimes, CHS showed crime was down 4% through August 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.
There have been areas of frustration, however, as burglaries have surged around Pike/Pine and in the area between Broadway and I-5. Homicides and gun related crimes have also climbed. There have already been nine murders across the East Precinct — there were five in all of 2019 and three the year before.
And the month since CHS’s analysis has not been a good one. In September, the East Precinct recorded a 23% jump in overall crime compared to the same month last year.
The surging stats come on the heels of months of demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality often based at the East Precinct on Capitol Hill that have frequently resulted in arrests. One community member said they were frustrated demonstrators weren’t being punished more for “tearing this city up.”
SPD officials said Wednesday night that it is difficult to prosecute these cases with lower jail capacities due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the time it takes to complete paperwork on each case.
“I think everybody is tired of all the protests and all the violence and all the property destruction,” Lt. Paul Leung said. “This is almost a perfect storm.”
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Why the disconnect between SPD’s outlook and the stats reported by CHS? SPD’s Sea Stat crime analytics focus on that 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 have fallen around 8%. And in the East Precinct, the Sea Stat view reveals one of SPD’s concerns — Sea Stat’s core crimes climbed through August in the East Precinct, according to SPD’s reporting.
Leung connected what he says has been a 13% rise in property crime for the East Precinct compared to this point last year to the protest movement and CHOP occupied protest earlier this summer. Arson and burglary have seen two of the biggest increases year-over-year among property crimes, according to public data compiled by the police department. For example, SPD reports 17 acts of arson in the third quarter of 2020. Last year, that figure was two in the East Precinct.
The East Precinct includes the area stretching from Montlake to I-90 on the east side of I-5.
The crime rate for the East Precinct has also gone up by about 13%, Leung noted, including nine homicides over the first three quarters of this year compared to five in the same period in 2019.
Leung claimed responding to constant protests have hampered the ability of the police to quickly deal with violent crimes.
Not all of the discussion focused on traditional policing. Brandie Flood, who works for the REACH homelessness outreach program said the current way of doing things is based on white supremacy.
“The whole system needs to be reformed, so everybody can [get] the help that they need, it’s just not from the law enforcement,” she said. “We have a small part of it, especially mental illness and any kind of addiction. You know what? We could do our part, but the thing is that after we either do whatever we need to do, there always has to be some kind of support for those people to get them back on to the right path.”
Leung conceded that the system, including law enforcement, needs to be “revamped.”
Meanwhile, representatives from REACH briefed the advisory council, noting that community referrals for services for people experiencing homelessness no longer have to be approved by law enforcement. On top of referrals from police, the program will also be taking referrals directly from the community, according to Flood.
REACH, a city-contracted program, conducts outreach to help people experiencing homelessness access needed services, whether it be housing and healthcare or food.
“We’ve always taken on community referrals, it’s just that law enforcement would approve or deny that person into the program,” Flood said. “But now they don’t hold that gatekeeping power anymore.”
SPD also had more concerns to share. After 150 days of protests, SPD says it is preparing for large-scale civil unrest after next week’s election, Leung said Wednesday, though, for this, there have been no reported threats and no specifics about the concerns.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen during the election, so we’re preparing for the whole week, from Sunday to Sunday, planning for the worst and hoping for the best,” Leung said.