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Should Seattle council shoulder the blame for city’s ‘violent crime spike’?

Detectives investigate after a man was shot and killed in the Roosevelt neighborhood in July 2021. (Photo courtesy of SPD Blotter)

The Tom and Curley Show often relies on Seattle Times’ columnist Danny Westneat for some provocative or thoughtful takes on the city of Seattle. His most recent column details how city council may very well have left Seattle in what he refers to as “a no man’s land on crime.”

“We are, like a lot of cities in America, we are seeing an uptick in violence and homicides, serious crime spurts over the course of the summer,” KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney explained. “And we had a hellacious weekend as well.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan and interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz held a press conference to address the rise in violence and crime in Seattle. Tom explains that Durkan called out the city leaders, meaning the city council, for the mess we’re in now.

“Because what worse time to have the lowest number of police we’ve had in years,” Tom said. “We’ve lost 270 officers in the last 18 months. What a terrible time to be having a crime spike, violent crime spike.”

For that, Westneat lays the blame at the feet of the Seattle City Council.

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Guest host Shari Elliker drew similarities to Baltimore, where she used to live.

“I absolutely see some comparisons here. Because Baltimore also, when I lived there — this was obviously before the ‘defund the police’ movement — they had a tremendous exodus in terms of police officers after the Freddie Gray riots, a lot of people left,” Elliker said.

“And I’ve got to tell you, it is really, really hard for any city to recover from that,” she added. “Right now, recruitment is a really difficult thing in any form of law enforcement, because number one, who wants that job, right? I mean, with the amount of abuse police officers have to take, with all of the negative press about the job, and all of that, it’s very, very hard to recruit people.”

When you lose officers and recruitment is difficult, Elliker says it’s hard to get back to where the staffing levels need to be, “and that’s the danger.”

Westneat, as the two hosts discuss, points out that the ideas brought forward by the council, including shifting some of the 911 calls or having a non-officer response, can’t be implemented immediately.

“I think his point is very well taken in that, why weren’t these things thought out before all of this started, all of the talks started?,” Elliker said. “Why didn’t they start some of these programs in advance of this? And it’s really a great thing to ponder.”

Tom also says that “because of the approach the Seattle City Council took, what [Westneat’s] saying is they put the cart before the horse because they went on this, as he said, it was malpractice for the city council to use a slogan like ‘defund the police’ or cut the police by 50% before they had all these other things in process,” and then to see if you can reduce the number of officers.

“But the thing is, and I think Danny is a smart enough guy to know this: We know the reason they didn’t do that and that was because they made this in a crisis moment where we had people in the streets, we had CHAZ or CHOP, we had surrounded the East Precinct, which had been abandoned by the police department,” he continued.

“This was the city trying to grapple with an ongoing protest movement, and I think by saying, yes, we hear you and we will act, the fact that they ended up not getting anywhere near the 50%, I think should be taken into account,” Tom said. “But still the fact that we cut any police down — I think we cut like 18% at this point, and there were calls for more. It’s that it was done in a moment of crisis, that call, and now we’re paying the consequences of it.”

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That said, Tom believes both sides can be right. You should be able to make demands of the police if you feel they’re “not up to snuff,” as he puts it, but at this point, they’re also the primary means for addressing crime as it happens.

“At the same time, you cannot undercut them and run them out of town when we realize that there are moments when the Seattle Police Department is the only wing of the city that can control crime, at least the kind of violent crime that we’re seeing this summer,” he said. “Again, an excellent article. And I think that a lot of Seattleites would agree, or a lot of people even in the Puget Sound would agree, that we are in a kind of no man’s land right now because we’re short of police.”

The suggestion Westneat makes is that maybe we need better policing, but not fewer police.

“This is going to be more expensive, but we’re going to try to stop the crime at its beginning point,” Tom said. “That’s going to take more funds, not fewer funds.”

Listen to the Tom and Curley Show weekday afternoons from 3 – 7 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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