Jun 26, 2023 - News

With fatal shootings up, Seattle police roll out new task force

<span style="color: white; background-color:#3eb4ff; padding: 0px 4px; display: inline-block; margin: 5px 0px 0px; white-space: nowrap; font-weight: 900;">Fatal</span> and <span style="color: white; background-color:#054f9f; padding: 0px 4px; display: inline-block; margin: 5px 0px 0px; white-space: nowrap; font-weight: 900;">nonfatal</span> shootings investigated by Seattle police
Data: Seattle Police Department; Chart: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

Fatal shootings in Seattle are up 20% year over year, with 18 people dead of gunshot wounds in the first five months of 2023 compared to 15 deaths during the same period last year.

Driving the news: After this month's shooting death of a pregnant business owner in Belltown and a crescendo of shootings during spring, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) on June 16 announced the creation of the new Community Violence Task Force focused on four neighborhoods in the city: downtown, Aurora, South Seattle and the Central District.

  • The goal of the new task force, which will involve every bureau of the police department as well as regional and federal law enforcement, is to stem the tide of gun violence, according to a statement from SPD and the mayor's office.

By the numbers: Although Seattle's total number of fatal and injury shootings between January and May this year — 67 — is less than the 78 from the same period in 2022, more people have died of their injuries this year, according to police department data.

  • The numbers for June have not been officially tallied. But police have investigated at least ten non-fatal and three fatal shootings so far this month, according to a hand count of incidents listed in the SPD Blotter and the department's Significant Incident Reports.

The big picture: Over the past few years, there has been a notable increase in the rate of gun violence in the U.S., accelerated by the pandemic, Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, lead researcher at the Firearm Injury & Policy Research Program within the University of Washington School of Medicine, told Axios.

  • While some thought that the spikes in the rates of gun violence seen since 2020 would be temporary, "we now know that was not the case," he said.

Flashback: Last year, the violent crime rate in Seattle reached a 15-year high, with 52 homicides from all causes — a 24% increase over the 42 recorded in 2021, according to the department's year-end crime report.

  • Police investigated 39 fatal shootings in 2022, three times the number investigated in 2018.

Plus: Across the region, the number of juvenile gunshot victims nearly doubled, going from 33 in 2018 to 61 in 2022, Susan Gregg, spokesperson for Harborview Medical Center, told Axios.

Between the lines: While all the reasons for the recent surge are not fully understood, Rowhani-Rahbar said, most experts believe that a combination of dramatic increases in the rate of gun ownership and purchases, the easy availability of guns, and enormous social and structural challenges facing communities play a critical role.

What's next: The city will allocate every resource available to amplify police presence during the summer months, according to the statement from the Seattle mayor's office and SPD.

  • "We are committed to reducing violent crime and bringing a sense of safety to all who live, work, and visit our city," the statement said.
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