‘Extraordinary rise in gun violence in King County’ in 2021, says county prosecutor

Feb 1, 2022, 5:03 AM | Updated: 10:39 am

gun violence...

(File photo, Associated Press)

(File photo, Associated Press)

At the end of 2020, King County had seen a record number of shooting incidents, with gun violence numbers up across the board. But 2021 jumped past those numbers and soared over the four-year average in all shooting categories tracked by the King County Prosecutor’s Office Shots Fired program.

Gun violence in King County continues rise to ‘crisis’ levels

“This is a dramatic report, and it shows an extraordinary rise in gun violence in King County,” King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said.

“2020 was a record year. 2021 has left 2020 behind in terms of just the sheer amount of gun violence in our community,” he added.

The Shots Fired program tracks various shooting incidents, but does not include suicide or officer-involved shootings.

For 2021, there were a total of 1,405 shots fired incidents among the various reporting agencies in King County. That was a 54% increase compared to the four-year average between 2017-2020.

A total of 88 people were killed in shootings in King County, which was also a 54% jump from the four-year average, and was 17 more deaths compared to 2020.

There was a 70% jump in the number of overall shooting victims in 2021 compared to the four-year average, with a total of 460 shooting victims in 2021. The 362 shooting victims in 2021 who survived their injuries represent an 82% spike in the number of non-fatal shootings over the four-year average.

“The bottom line here is that, while 2020 was a record year in the five years that we’ve been keeping these statistics, 2021 saw 17 more fatalities and 102 more non-fatal shootings during that time,” Satterberg said.

The demographics remained largely the same, with some of the most concerning numbers the nearly 50% [48%] of both fatal and non-fatal shooting victims being Black or African American men – 27% of whom were between the ages of 18 and 24.

“Gun violence, I think, is particularly important as we try to figure out how to invest more in prevention and intervention strategies and try to figure out where this is happening and why this is happening,” Satterberg said.

“I think it is interesting that, while the demographics remain more or less the same, they’re trending to older people, people in their 30s, fewer of those juveniles who are 17 and under,” Satterberg continued. “We’re seeing a wide range of incidents that lead to homicidal violence, and we’re seeing more road rage, we’re seeing more reckless shootings, we’re seeing more interactions that seemed to us to provide a sort of petty provocation for guns to be used.”

Dan Satterberg to say goodbye as King County Prosecutor after nearly 16 years

The program also shows where the shootings occurred, with 62% of shots fired incidents occurring outside of the city of Seattle. Of the shooting victims, both homicide and non-fatal shooting victims, 59% are from agencies outside of Seattle. Both metrics are slightly higher than the four-year average for 2017 to 2020.

The why is the question officials hope all the tracking can help with.

King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay opined that the COVID-19 pandemic and all it brought with it, combined with families already struggling to get by, was part of what may have fueled the spike in shootings.

“We’re living in times of turmoil. The worst part about it, in my view, is that as we’re seeing societal problems stack up, the tools that we have to solve those problems are being diminished at the same time, and that creates a really bad dynamic. As we’re seeing the pandemic stack up anxiety, depression, anger, addiction, the tools that we usually have to address those things are being diminished,” Zahilay said.

“The recreational places are closed. Hospitals and other facilities to address mental health and addiction services are over capacity because of the pandemic and other dynamics,” he added. “Government services in general are stretched super thin because of the compounding crises that we’re seeing. So that dynamic is what I’m seeing overall, [which is] pushing violence, anger, depression, and all of these things up. We have a long way to go to address those tools and bring them back to where they need to be.”

Satterberg says the data helps inform his office and other elected leaders as they work to get to the root causes of gun violence, including poverty, gentrification, opportunity gaps, and many other societal ills that likely play a role. For instance, King County and the City of Seattle recently increased funding for programs that have been proven to work, focusing on kids most at risk of getting involved with guns and gun violence, such as Community Passageways and CHOOSE 180.

“To me, the response to intervene and to prevent gun violence is something that is within the community’s power to do, and we have just now started to fund some of these efforts where community nonprofits with credible messengers — who know how to talk to young people — are being funded by the county, and we’re paying them a living wage to do this job. We need to do it more,” he said.

“But the reason that that’s important is that’s a strategy that allows us to get to the people who are most at risk of being involved in gun violence, and it’s not just in general. It has to be a general strategy that has to be concentrated on the people who are likely to be involved in gun violence,” Satterberg said.

But prosecutors acknowledge there are likely other factors at play as well, including a dramatic reduction in the number of police officers on the street.

2021 marks the fifth year the prosecutor’s office has released its Shots Fired report and used what was found to help inform decisions on programs, but Satterberg says significant funding has only just started. He notes that it is far too soon to tell how this data, and the decisions it is helping inform are working out.

“I think this has to be a sustained, multi-decade investment and effort. I don’t think you can compare one year to the next and say, ‘Well, you know, this has failed,’ or ‘this is because [of] such a big societal problem,'” he said.

“It involves so many different factors, including the easy availability of guns, economic distress, uncertainty of pandemics — all of these things,” Satterberg explained.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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‘Extraordinary rise in gun violence in King County’ in 2021, says county prosecutor