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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane police record a 186% increase in homicides in 2020

The Spokane County Jail. There were 25 homicides in the county during 2020.   (JESSE TINSLEY)

During the year of spiking COVID-19 cases, homicides also soared.

With 20 confirmed homicides in Spokane in 2020, the city saw the most confirmed killings since 23 in 2002.

That count is also a 186% increase in homicides in the city from 2019, when police responded to seven killings, Spokane Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Terry Preuninger said.

At least two other shooting deaths, which police haven’t determined to be either suicides or homicides, could push the year’s tally higher, Preuninger said.

“Sometimes, ironically, while homicides are the most well-documented things we have, the numbers will change because once it’s determined as a homicide, it gets added on to these numbers,” Preuninger said.

Preuninger said homicides are time -consuming. Despite the increase, police believe they’ve solved 18 of the 20, meaning suspects had been arrested in 90% of the year’s cases.

Normally, the Major Crimes Unit investigates several types of violent crime, including nonfatal shootings and assaults, Preunigner said in October. This year, other units have taken those cases on top of their normal caseloads, meaning other midlevel crimes don’t get investigated, Preuninger said.

Departments across the region have seen similar upticks in crime. In Tacoma, with a slightly smaller population than Spokane, police recorded 23 homicides in 2019, police spokesperson Wendy Haddow said.

By the end of 2020, they had 31 homicides, Haddow said. Twenty-four had led to arrests by Dec. 31 and the remaining seven were active investigations, making the department’s “solved” homicide rate 77%, she said.

Seattle police investigated 47 homicides in 2020, up from 28 in 2019, according to the city’s statistics.

Seattle Police Department officer Valerie Carson said the department didn’t have counts of cases that led to arrests and active investigations for 2020 as of Dec. 31, but would be releasing a report next week.

Boise police, in a city with a slightly larger population than Spokane, responded to four homicides in 2020, the same as last year. All 2020 cases led to arrests within the year, said Haley Williams, spokesperson for the department.

Spokane County outside the city generally sees fewer homicides each year. By November, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office responded to five homicides in 2020, matching 2019’s homicide count, according to the department’s November crime statistics.

A New Year’s Eve homicide marked the sixth killing and only open homicide case of the year, though statistics have not yet been finalized for December, Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Mark Gregory said.