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‘We’re better than this,’ Seattle’s interim police chief says of ongoing spike in gun violence

Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz speaks about the investment of $2 million in community-based programs aimed to prevent gun violence outside Harborview Medical Center on July 22.   (Amanda Snyder/Seattle Times)
By Sara Jean Green Seattle Times

Seattle police have so far responded to 100 more cases of gunfire this year than they did by late August 2020, and 78% of this year’s 35 homicide victims died as a result of gun violence, interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz said Tuesday morning, hours after homicide detectives responded to the latest shooting death on Capitol Hill.

Diaz, who appeared via video stream alongside Seattle City Council member Alex Pedersen and Rex Brown, the director of the newly created Safe and Thriving Communities Division within the city’s Human Services Department, answered questions from the media after another rash of shootings in neighborhoods across the city.

“We’re better than this,” said Diaz of what he called “the unrelenting pace of violence.”

Between Thursday night and Saturday afternoon, seven people were injured in shootings in Hillman City, First Hill, Georgetown, downtown, the Chinatown-International District and West Seattle neighborhoods, and two people were found dead from gunshot wounds in Lake City, according to police. No one was hit in a shooting outside a Pioneer Square nightclub Friday night, but following a pursuit that ended at 21st Avenue and Yesler Way, police booked two people into jail and seized three guns and multiple shell casings from inside a crashed vehicle, says an item posted to the department’s online blotter.

Then a little after 1 a.m. Tuesday, police responded to a report of a shooting in the 1000 block of East John Street, where they say a 39-year-old man reportedly shot and killed a 24-year-old man in self-defense after the younger man attempted to rob him.

Later that day, after the news conference, a 58-year-old woman was shot and wounded in a robbery in the Greenlake neighborhood at about 1:35 p.m. She was taken to Harborview Medical Center in stable condition, police said.

A third shooting was reported at 6:18 p.m. in the 200 block of Yesler Way, at Prefontaine Place park in Pioneer Square. Police said a 20-year-old man was shot in the abdomen, and he was taken to Harborview Medical Center in serious condition. Some witnesses told police there was a fight prior to the shooting.

The Pioneer Square nightclub case was the only one in which arrests had been announced as of Tuesday afternoon.

Diaz also referenced the five people who were killed and seven others who were wounded over a bloody weekend in late July. Since then, he said, patrol officers have been dispatched to shooting “hot spots” at 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, and for a few weeks, it seemed things had “turned a corner” with the added visibility of officers.

Even amid a staffing crisis that’s seen 300 officers leave the Seattle Police Department in the last 18 months, so far this year police have recovered more than 2,000 shell casings, taken 700 guns off the streets and seized 500,000 fentanyl pills, 13 pounds of cocaine, 88 pounds of meth and 25 pounds of heroin, said Diaz, noting the nexus between illicit drug trafficking and gun violence.

And while many of Seattle’s shootings involve young people and gangs, Diaz said the department has also seen a surge in road rage shootings and shootings in the city’s homeless encampments. So far this year, 135 people have been killed or wounded in 104 shootings, with 20 more people becoming victims of gun violence compared to last year, he said.

“We must address who is doing the shooting now. We know from research that shooters and their associates quickly become victims. Stopping shootings stops the cycle of violence,” Diaz said. “We know where the shootings are most likely to take place and we know it’s a relatively small number of people who are willing to pull a gun and use it. We know the locations that support the behaviors that lead to shootings. And if the department was not in the midst of a staffing crisis, we would have highly visible officers in the neighborhoods suffering this violence.”

Pedersen, the City Council member who represents Northeast Seattle, wants to see the council use funds already allocated to the police department to accelerate recruitment and retention of officers when they begin midyear budget discussions Sept. 13. Calling the departure of 300 officers a “record-breaking amount of attrition,” Pedersen said he hopes his fellow council members “recognize the reality of the police shortage crisis.”

In July, Diaz and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced $10.4 million in onetime funding to 33 community organizations over 18 months for violence-prevention programs and to increase safety for communities of color. The city also earmarked $2 million to help fund a pilot program called the King County Regional Peacekeepers Collective. King County previously announced a $1.47 million funding effort for gun-violence prevention strategies, including money for the regional peacekeepers group.

Brown, of the city’s Human Services Department, said Tuesday that one of the groups receiving funding, the Community Safety Hotline, has responded to 39 critical incidents and provided support to young people in South Seattle, West Seattle and the Central District.

Support from community organizations “and family engagement can help disrupt the cycle of gun violence and help young people on a path to health and well-being,” said Brown, adding that the King County Regional Peacekeepers pilot program, now ramping up and training staff, is “expected to serve 200 young people over the next two years.”