2020 gun violence spike in King County has continued, warns prosecutor
The dramatic spike in gun violence King County saw last year shows no signs of easing.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg says 2020 was bad, with a 36% increase in shots fired. He worries the trend continues into 2021.
“One of the aspects of the pandemic years that we’ve just gone through and that I don’t think what we fully anticipated was an increase in gun violence that would come along with the shutdown,” Satterberg said. “It’s not just a King County issue, it’s a national trend across America’s largest cities where we’ve seen a murder rate increase of about 38%.”
The prosecutor said in a typical year for the past 10 years, they’ll see 56 murders in King County. Last year, they filed 90 murder charges.
“One of the things we count are the number of people who are struck by gunfire,” Satterberg said. “We’ve seen in the first three months of this year, 69 people that were shot — 16 of them were killed and 53 of them were injured to some degree. That is up also, over our typical baseline.”
He’s concerned that the rates will increase as the weather improves and more people gather in larger groups.
“The trend that we saw in 2020 is continuing in 2021,” he said.
The county also keeps track of overall gunfire with the “Shots Fired” project, which records any reports of gunshots. The project started four years ago, which means they have a pretty good baseline, according to Satterberg. The numbers remained steady for 2017 through 2019, and then it spiked in 2020.
While they track murders by other means, Satterberg said 13 of the 16 cases filed this year involved gun violence.
“It’s the vast majority of crimes that we see,” he said. “It seems to be highly concentrated in certain neighborhoods in King County, and we know what they are. That hasn’t changed over the last 4.5 years that we’ve kept track of it.”
He explained that gun violence in King County is concentrated among young people. People under the age of 24 are almost half of all of the victims. It’s also concentrated among men, and also very disproportionately among communities of color.
Not only does keeping statistics allow the law community know where gun violence might happen, but Satterberg said it also helps identify areas where investments should be made.
“We typically go into areas of concentrated poverty where there aren’t a lot of alternatives or options or opportunities for young people to get jobs or get into school or have a positive role model,” Satterberg said. “So one of the strategies that we can adopt to manage this better is to focus our resources on those areas where we know gun violence has disproportionately impacted the community.”
The bulk of the shootings, involve young men of color. Satterberg says that’s why the county is looking to spend $2 million dollars to expand its Credible Messenger program, which sends people with credibility and experience from the same neighborhood to help interrupt the cycle of gun violence.
“To pay those people a living wage to spend their time and their career interrupting gun violence,” Satterberg explained. “So when you find out one group has been shot at by another group, they go and surround the victim group and try to talk them out of retaliation.”
Satterberg said it’s a very effective public safety strategy, but it’s not free.