What’s all this talk about crime in Seattle?


During my four decades as a journalist I’ve been in a lot of places, not all of them nice. In the early 1980s I spent a couple of years hanging around Beirut as the Israelis invaded Lebanon and assorted Arab militias battled back as well as each other. Kidnappings and sudden death became routine. One day my friend Terry Anderson, the AP bureau chief, was grabbed off a Beirut street. He was held for 5 1/2 years then released. In that respect he was lucky; a lot of kidnap victims came back feet first or were never found at all.

Billy The Kid (via Wikipedia)

Partly because of this experience, I’ve never worried too much about crime rates in the U.S. No matter where I go or live, it’s better than Beirut. And I say this having hoofed through dicey neighborhoods in cities like Detroit, Houston, Philadelphia and New York City. I lived for a dozen years in New Mexico when by some measures it was considered the most dangerous of the 50 states (and whose best-known historical figure remains the 19th century killer Billy The Kid). In Albuquerque I had as a neighbor a woman who killed her husband–not the first spouse she had iced–and got off both times.

My lack of concern about crime extends to my status as New To Seattle. But here it is a lot more data-driven. Statistics suggest to me it’s pretty safe to walk the streets day or night, and that Seattleites generally have little reason to live in fear. As I wrote here in December, the latest FBI crime figures favorably portrayed Seattle among peer group cities, at least when it came to crime against people. (Crime against property, like car thefts and break-ins, were a different and somewhat more troubling matter.)

But you’d almost not know this from Mayor Mike McGinn’s State of the City address this week. “McGinn addresses murder ’emergency’ in annual speech,” read the headline in The Seattle Times.

Let me selectively quote at some length from McGinn’s address:

We have seen some increases in certain kinds of crime. People are concerned about public safety. I heard concerns from residents in Columbia City the weekend before last. I heard concerns in Belltown on Friday night. I’ve heard it in other neighborhoods too.

I share the public’s concerns. These problems are real. Last fall we saw an increase in the number of home break-ins in the Southeast Precinct. SPD swung into action and after making several arrests, the number of home break-ins fell back to normal levels.

So far in 2012 we have had seven homicides on our streets. Several of them stemmed from the drug trade. A few others took place around nightclubs. All involved guns.

I am here today to tell you that we are standing firm with the people of Seattle against violent behavior, armed robberies, open-air drug dealing and any other form of criminal behavior in Seattle. …

The Seattle Police Department is launching “violence prevention emphasis patrols” in each of the city’s five precincts. That means more officers will be deployed to address street disorder, assaults, and shootings, focusing on the specific problems in each neighborhood.

By providing a dedicated group of officers from each precinct to address these problems in our communities, we hope to improve our ability to prevent gun violence and other crimes as well as respond to calls for service within each precinct. These patrols have already started getting illegal guns off the street.

These patrols will work collaboratively with neighborhood businesses to ensure that residents and visitors can be in these areas safely and without fear.

Redeploying our police is just one part of the solution. Officers cannot solve this alone. We have to create a safe environment as well. Last year we cleaned up the Jungle in Beacon Hill. We partnered with residents of Columbia City to help clean up open-air drug markets.

The vast majority of our bars and clubs are safe, law-abiding, and help make Seattle a great place. We are taking action against those very few that aren’t following the rules. Petty Officer 3rd Class Gregory Wayne Anderson, Junior was visiting Seattle from the USS Nimitz earlier this month when he was shot and killed during a fight near Club Republiq. That club had been facing bankruptcy, so we sent an SPD sergeant to testify to a judge about the problems there. The judge pulled the plug and shut the club down last week …

This year we are expanding our work to 3rd Avenue and to the International District. We’re bringing our departments together to focus on sensible solutions to street disorder and crime. …

It is time we were honest about the problems we face with the drug trade. Drugs are a source of criminal profit, and that has led to shootings and even murders. ….

Wow! According to McGinn, I’m now living in the Wild West!

I’m thinking McGinn wrote his speech upon waking up in a cold sweat one night after dreaming he read a headline in The Times–which hasn’t always been that friendly to him–something like “Murders rise 350% on mayor’s watch.”

In my judgment, these are random statistical blips. Sure, there have been seven murders in Seattle this year, compared with two during the first two months of 2011 and three in 2010. But we’re not even through all of February yet. The referenced time frame is so short, and the numbers so low, that the results fall well within what political pollsters call the margin of error. It’s just way too early to declare a change in trend.

The situation reminds me more of that old joke about an actuary telling his wife he wants to die in Jerusalem because his research shows the city has the world’s highest resurrection rate.

Of course, if McGinn is really serious about fighting serious crime, he could reallocate police resources away from, say, anti-jaywalking enforcement. Billy The Kid was lucky he never crossed a Seattle street mid-block.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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This entry was posted in Seattle, Seattle crime, Seattle culture, Seattle history, Seattle neighborhoods, Seattle politics, Seattle Times and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to What’s all this talk about crime in Seattle?

  1. Pingback: It turns out Murder Inc. isn’t expanding in Seattle | New To Seattle

  2. Pingback: Is Seattle still overreacting about string of killings? | New To Seattle

  3. NewToSeattle says:

    Jordan, how would you deal with the situation?

  4. jordan says:

    I think Mr Barrett should just give up journalism find a new hobby buddy just today alone 3 people have died and 6 have been shot all in an hr s time …write an article about how Seattle should focuse on gun violence

  5. NewToSeattle says:

    My point when I wrote this on February 24 was that a period of less than two months did not strike me as really enough time to judge an entire year when it comes to crime. In any event, I’ve been a journalist a little longer than you suggest–42 years.

  6. Scuba Frog says:

    It’s now May 27th. 2012 has been a pretty bloody year to date. Random shootings and gang violence are increasing steadily. What have you to say now Mr. Barrett? Do you still have a “lack of concern”? Respectfully, 4 years as a journalist makes you a novice – if that. Put in 20 more years, and go to some particularly bloody locales on this good earth – and report back.

  7. Dorothea says:

    This is an example of using a statistical anomoly to manufacture a crisis. This crisis can then be used to harass nightclub owners and pass legislation to prohibit guns in parks ~ neither of which will do anything meaningful to address the problem.

    /Seattle Native 45+ years, so I’ve seen this around here before/

  8. eskercurve says:

    I agree that Seattle is the safest metro area I’ve ever lived in. There are simply areas where a white male should NOT go into in Chicago and other areas I’ve been in, and seen firsthand what the yakuza does to people it doesn’t like. But those pale in comparison to the experiences you’ve had, for sure. I certainly wouldn’t dream of being a war correspondent! LOL.

    I do think that McSchwinn should reallocate cops from giving jaywalking tickets to the beat patrolling nightclubs and open-air drug deals in broad daylight. Drugs are a bigger problem here than people believe, mostly because a lot of it is pot and the gangs do a pretty good job of not murdering each other. This may change as meth is getting more popular (and cheaper thanks to the Mexican cartels mass producing it). We’ve also for as long as I can remember been a waypoint for underage prostitution, and pot smuggling from Canada. One only needs to look at the backpage ads and the graffiti on the Aurora drag between 35th and 85th that hasn’t been kind to the motels since 2008’s housing crash to see what I mean.

    On the whole though, I do think that Seattle is a safe area to live so long as you don’t go looking for trouble and/or go to clubs.

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