Calling 2020 a year like no other, interim Seattle police Chief Adrian Diaz said Monday his department’s homicide detectives investigated 50 homicides last year, representing a 61% increase over the 31 people killed as a result of homicidal violence in the city in 2019.
Citing data that shows homicides across the country were up 36% in 2020 compared to the previous year, Diaz said Seattle’s 50 homicides were the most investigated in the city in 26 years.
Sgt. Randy Huserik, a spokesperson for the Seattle Police Department (SPD), said the number did not include the investigation into the June double-shooting of Jessica Lewis, 35, and her boyfriend, Austin Wenner, 27, whose dismembered bodies were found in several bags that washed ashore on Alki Beach. Though their deaths were investigated by SPD homicide detectives, it was determined they were killed in Burien. In August, King County prosecutors charged the couple’s landlord, Michael Lee Dudley, with two counts of second-degree murder.
According to a database compiled by The Seattle Times, which has tracked homicides committed in King County since 2016, there were 48 homicide victims in Seattle in 2020, plus two others killed in officer-involved shootings. The newspaper’s count includes Lewis and Wenner’s deaths.
The discrepancy between SPD’s homicide tally and the newspaper’s could not immediately be reconciled.
Diaz commended officers, detectives and crime-scene investigators for their work in bringing justice to the families of those killed, saying suspects have been identified or arrested in a majority of the cases.
Most of last year’s homicide victims were men between the ages of 18 and 49, and 49% of victims were Black, the chief said. Black people are historically overrepresented among homicide victims: Only about 7% of Seattle’s population is Black.
Sixty percent of the 50 homicides were committed with firearms, down from 66% in 2019, Diaz said.
Seven of the homicides were the result of domestic violence, one more than in 2019, according to the chief.
“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,” said Diaz, who noted the coronavirus pandemic led to business and school closures, and saw most people radically change their behaviors as a result of stay-home orders.
Because of the extraordinary events of 2020, Diaz said he wasn’t putting much stock in the year-over-year spike in homicides compared with longer-term crime stats.
But he did say Seattle police officers took more than 1,000 firearms off the streets for the fourth year in a row. They also continue to collect shell casings from shooting scenes and submit data to the Shots Fired project spearheaded by King County prosecutors. That project has been collecting shooting data since 2017 with the goal of identifying trends and informing public health programs to intervene in the lives of people considered most at risk for being a victim or perpetrator of gun violence.
Of the casings SPD submitted to the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, which is run by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and is used to identify shell casings fired by the same weapon, 240 casings were linked to other shootings. Of those, more than 150 were directly linked to crimes in Seattle, said Diaz.
He said police are working with King County prosecutors, federal prosecutors and the ATF to renew regional task forces aimed at taking dangerous people off the streets while partnering with public health officials to prevent and respond to gun violence.
“We are focused on the individuals we know are carrying guns, calling shots and pulling triggers,” Diaz said. “We know that associations with guns increases the risk of being injured or killed. To build the community capacity that can prevent future violence, we have to stop the bleeding right now.”
By the end of 2020, SPD saw the number of shootings begin to trend downward and Diaz said police officers are committed to doing their part in reducing gun violence.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that 69% of 2019’s homicide victims were killed with firearms; 66% of those victims died by gunfire.