Seattle PD low on officers as gun violence spikes

SEATTLE — Following a deadly weekend of shootings in Seattle and an overall increase in gun violence, police are altering officer schedules to try and cover the gaps as they struggle to meet demand.

“Seattle saw one of the worst late night, early mornings of violence in recent memory,” said Seattle City Mayor Jenny Durkan.

These somber words opened a Monday afternoon news conference with Durkan and Seattle Police Department (SPD).

“Mothers lost their children. Families lost their fathers. People lost their friends. Our communities were shaken in a series of avoidable gun violence incidents,” Durkan continued.

Over the weekend, Seattle saw a series of unrelated shootings across the city that claimed the lives of five and injured nine others.

Shots rang out in Belltown, Pioneer Square, the Chinatown-International District, Capitol Hill and Lake City. Early Monday morning, the violence continued in a homeless encampment outside of the Yesler Terrace neighborhood.

“This level of gun violence in Seattle, in our country, cannot become the new normal,” said Durkan.

According to SPD, there has been a 40% increase in shots-fired incidents over last year. SPD also reported a 100% increase in drive-by shootings.

Based on numbers from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO), gun violence is a growing issue countywide.

So far in 2021, there have been 580 shots-fired incidents. That’s a 33% increase over the four years prior for that same time frame.

According to those same statistics, the number of victims has gone up too. In the last six months, roughly 200 people have been killed or injured. In comparison to the four-year average from 2017 to 2020, that is a 48% increase in fatal incidents and a 65% increase in non-fatal incidents.

KCPAO also reported there have been four more fatal shooting victims as compared to 2020.

“We are in a public health crisis. We are in a public safety crisis in those communities, where gun violence is highly concentrated,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg. “We collect this data with the understanding that we can share it with not just law enforcement but with the community at large and also with people who are interested in working with young people who are at risk of being involved in gun violence. This data helps us think about how to best direct investments into affected communities.”

Part of the problem is the numbers continue to grow as the police force continues to shrink. In the last 17 months, SPD had lost 250 officers. Durkan said that number is on track to go up to 300.

“They’re, you know, putting in work, trying to do everything they can to save lives, but it is a challenge because we only have a certain amount of officers able to respond,” police Chief Adrian Diaz explained. “We had to extend third watch. Bring first watch in early, so every officer is going out and doing the hard work that they need to do.”

Diaz said the lack of officers is making it difficult to respond to the number of calls they receive.

“So far this year, more than five days a week on average, we’re having to go to priority call statuses where we focus exclusively on Priority 1 calls and Priority 2 if there is time,” Diaz said.

“This is forcing tough choices. I’m down a remarkable number of officers, and I’ve been reduced and restricted budget,” Diaz continued. “I’m having to make tough choices where essentially my hands are tied between having enough officers respond to multiple scenes of violence across the city and having officer staff special events and other low-priority events.”

Already, Durkan and SPD have worked to find solutions. Last week, the city allocated $10.4 million toward violence prevention resources and another $2 million for a public health-based pilot program.

“It is a false choice between community-led solutions and police officers. We need both,” Durkan said.

The mayor intends to present a new ordinance to the City Council in the fall promoting 911 alternatives and addressing the current staffing shortage. Still, she knows, this type of behavior won’t stop overnight.

“This level of gun violence is unacceptable,” Durkan said. “We need everybody in the fight, and I need City Council standing up and saying that community should not have this level of violence, and we will work to make sure that we not just build up the community resilience needed. But we also make sure that when people call 911 if and when you need a police officer, one can respond.”