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Seattle coronavirus crime
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Rantz: Seattle burglary explodes 87% downtown after coronavirus policy, crisis

Police officers arrest a man accused of robbery in Seattle's Eastlake neighborhoods back in 2019. (Jason Rantz/KTTH)

Seattle coronavirus crime concerns have become fully realized. Burglary cases have exploded in Seattle’s west precinct since the coronavirus stay-at-home order and a county policy prohibiting most misdemeanor jail bookings went into effect.

These cases are also up significantly citywide.

A little over a week ago, officers argued the booking policy would result in a criminal “free for all.”

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Staggering Seattle coronavirus crime stats

The Seattle coronavirus crime data is staggeringly high.

As of Friday April 3, burglary cases were up 87% over the previous 28 days in the west precinct according to the Seattle Police Department’s internal crime database. The precinct includes downtown Seattle, the neighborhood where the SPD says most of the burglaries are happening.

“This is a number we’re going to work very hard to reverse in the coming weeks,” SPD spokesman Sergeant Sean Whitcomb told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. He confirmed the crime stats used in this story.

Burglaries aren’t only plaguing the west precinct. The east precinct, which includes Capitol Hill, is up 17%.

All-in, the city of Seattle has seen a 21% increase in burglaries.

Crime? What crime?

Both Mayor Durkan and Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best recently downplayed the increase in Seattle coronavirus crime.

When asked about crime in general, Durkan downplayed the data to KUOW on March 26:

We’re seeing it’s pretty static, it can still be in some areas have seen enhanced property crimes as the economy has gone down. It’s not surprising in times like this, there’s a lot less people out, so the need to have some of our emphasis patrols is not what it was three weeks ago.

So [Seattle Police] Chief Best has been really working to assess the each community by community where businesses are closed to keep those safe. So she’s tracking that very carefully on a regular basis.

On Twitter, Chief Best told me to “check your facts” when I Tweeted the story of a business boarding up windows due to coronavirus-related crime. Best insisted officers were making arrests.

SPD officers are, indeed, making arrests. Her Tweet, however, was a semantics sleight of hand. Most misdemeanor charges are not booked, meaning criminals aren’t spending much time in jail.

Last week, for example, 75-time convicted, prolific offended Francisco Calderon was released after allegedly threatening two gay men with a syringe, due to the coronavirus policy. Only after my reporting did the city do an about-face.

SPOG reacts

Officer Mike Solan is the president of the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild. The data does not shock him.

“It’s not surprising to me that this staffing emergency coupled with our city streets almost appearing abandoned at times that our property crime numbers have sky rocketed and they’re doesn’t appear to be an end in sight,” Officer Solan tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “Rest assured, whatever meager numbers we have on the street serving our community, we will continue to answer that 911 call and still adhere to our oath of service.”

But answering 911 calls hasn’t been easy. Solan tells me the SPD is “working on pulling in detectives to wear the uniform and answer 911 calls.”

Still, Whitcomb says that “precinct captains are actively working on this, and have implemented directed patrols in the areas affected.” He also says the SPD is working with business associations and civilian groups to keep them up to speed.

Why the increase in Seattle coronavirus crime?

There are two likely reasons why burglary is up in Seattle: Empty businesses districts and the coronavirus booking policy.

When you look at the precincts most impacted by the burglaries, they tend to have normally busy business districts. But at a time where there is no one around, they’re easier targets for burglaries.

Looking at the city’s more residential neighborhoods, the good news is that burglaries are down. The north precinct, which includes Lake City, saw a 3% decrease while the south precinct, which includes SoDo, is down 7% in the last 28 days. One of the most residential precincts, the southwest (which includes West Seattle), saw a 19% decrease.

“We believe this trend is being driven by an increase in commercial burglary, while more people are at home,” Sgt. Whitcomb explained. “Conversely, burglaries of homes, apartments, and condos are down because they’re occupied by people.”

But with more criminals released from prison or not seeing jail time after arrests, you should expect this kind of problem. Seattle has long had a prolific offender problem.

Oftentimes, the only time these offenders aren’t committing crimes is when they’re in jail between convictions and arrests. Now, they’re getting a free pass from jail time while in business districts that are almost completely empty of potential witnesses to call 911.

Staffing is still a problem

Unfortunately, the SPD is still understaffed. That makes tackling this issue more difficult.

“Before COVID19, SPD’s staffing numbers have been at critical and embarrassing levels to the detriment of our wonderfully diverse Seattle community,” SPOG President Solan explained. “As our membership exudes professionalism on a daily basis as they serve our community, this staffing crisis has been and will continue to be a major source of concern as it pertains to public safety issues. Sadly, this reality is now even more amplified due to this awful pandemic and it’s further impact on our already low staffing numbers as patrol is stretched dangerously thin.”

It’s also important to note that Seattle may be an outlier. An investigation by USA Today found 19 out of 20 police agencies saw decreases in crime, including less theft and burglaries.

“Its up to our police officers to be the eyes and ears of our community,” Sgt Whitcomb said. “We’ve had some success. And the work continues. It’s not something that we’re going to let happen.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz on Twitter.

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