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Seattle had ‘highest number of murders in 26 years’ in 2020

Seattle Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

The number of homicides in Seattle has skyrocketed, as compared to the last year, but interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz says it’s not easy to compare 2020 with 2019.

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“As we all know, 2020 was a year like no other,” he said. “We know, both because of COVID and other events, that the number of 911 calls dropped throughout most of the year. Due to the pandemic, we all changed our behaviors. Stores closed. People stopped going to their places of work. Bars and restaurants were severely restricted.”

“So telling you that certain reported crimes are up or down compared to 2019, I believe has less meaning this year than any other,” he added.

Chief Diaz noted that across the country, most major cities reported significant increases in homicides and shots fired. In Seattle, Diaz says 2020 ended with 50 people who were willfully murdered, compared to 31 killed in 2019.

“That represents a 61% increase, or 19 additional people who were murdered this year,” he said. “This was the highest number of murders in 26 years. This is unacceptable. We cannot tolerate this level of violence.”

Diaz says homicide detectives also investigated two delayed deaths resulting from injuries sustained in 2015. They also investigated the recovery of bodies on Alki, who were individuals killed outside of Seattle.

Diaz said Monday that 60% of 2020 homicides were committed with a gun, compared to 66% in 2019.

“Most of the victims are males between the ages of 18-29 and 30-49. And most, 25, or 49%, were Black,” he added.

“I’m not going to go into the multiple theories I’m aware of for why we and other cities had such a large one-year increase. There’s no one clear explanation,” Chief Diaz said. “But I do know the department is working to decrease the violence.”

Part of that effort is in partnership with King County Public Health Director Patty Hayes to convene a meeting to approach the city’s gun violence issues as a regional public health issue.

“Over the last year, SPD has been a partner at the table outlining all current efforts and gaps in the system for preventing and responding to gun violence, both with and without the involvement of law enforcement,” Diaz said. “We are working with city partners and community regarding shots fired incidents, so trusted members of the community experiencing this violence can respond, make connections, offer services and help end the violence.”

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Diaz closed his remarks by saying that the end of 2020 did see the numbers trending down, and he says the department is “committed to a 2021 that not only has lower numbers than the highs of 2020, but the relatively low numbers of 2019.”

“I know the officers are out there doing the work – responding to shots fired, taking guns off the street, and working with community to reduce the frequency of people carrying guns,” he said. “This work will take more input than just the police department, but we will continue to do our part.”

According to the Seattle Police Department’s crime dashboard, there were 4,580 violent crimes in 2020 and 38,288 property crimes.

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