King County murder rates break records as Seattle prepares for even fewer officers

KING COUNTY, Wash. — King County is again breaking records when it comes to gun violence. More people were shot and killed between January and September of this year than all of 2020, according to the Quarter 3 report from the King County prosecuting attorney’s office.

Gun violence is up nationwide, but for Seattle, the troubling uptick comes as the police department is dealing with major staffing troubles, and preparing for even more shortages once the vaccine mandate deadline comes.

“We’ve already exceeded the historic records of gun violence that we saw last year in 2020,” said Dan Satterberg, King County Prosecuting Attorney. “It allows us to confirm what we feel in our gut. Incidents of gun violence, incidents of shots fired continues to grow at an alarming pace,” he said.

So far this year, 73 people have been shot and killed in King County, compared to 69 shooting murders in all of 2020. The victims are primarily young people of color. (The department does not track the ethnicities of the suspects, in part because at-large perpetrators would lead to incomplete data.)

The news conference on the new report came on the same day the Seattle Police Department launched its “Stage Three” mobilization plan — the system to manage 911 calls if more officers leave. It includes having sworn officers like detectives on standby to respond to emergency calls.

The latest concern is the impact this stopgap measure will have on solving shootings, murders and other felony cases.

“It’s a bad time for that to happen,” Satterberg said. “That will have an impact. We do need detectives to investigate cases and bring us cases; or as cases bring us to trial, you’ll often see the detective in court with the prosecutor,” he said.

“I’m concerned they’re stretched so very thin at this time when we need that kind of help both on the older cases, and these newer cases that are coming forward,” Satterberg said.

The Seattle Police Department said they will not know how investigations will be impacted until Oct. 18, after the vaccine mandate deadline.

People who live in Seattle say they’ve noticed the delays in Seattle police responding to calls, if at all.

“It’s kind of concerning. I’ve experienced having to wait for the police. I had someone break into my house not too long ago, and we had to call and wait, and wait and wait,” said Bryant Whitfield, a Seattle resident.

Others say come Oct. 18, if more officers leave the department, then so be it.

“If people are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, if they’re not taking charge and taking care of the community they’ve been charged to serve, then they’re not doing their job,” said Briq House, a Seattle artist. “I’m really excited about folks coming in who want to change the landscape,” she said.

Jim Fuda, the executive director of Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound, has another concern about fewer officers on the force.

“What also needs to be said is the strain on the officers that will remain to answer calls for service,” Fuda said. He said studies show long shift hours or mandatory overtime that lead to shifts longer than 10 hours per day can have big impacts.

“Production and officer safety drops substantially,” Fuda said.

So far, 98 sworn officers have filed vaccine exemption requests, according to the City of Seattle. 186 have yet to turn in any paperwork as of Oct. 13.

Employees have until Oct. 18 to submit that information to the city, or face losing their jobs. Negotiations between the Seattle Police Officers Guild and the City of Seattle are still underway.