While violent crime increased in Seattle and Washington state last year compared to 2015, the city and state both saw double-digit decreases in the number of murders and non-negligent manslaughters committed during the same time period, according to FBI data released Monday.
While Seattle mirrored national statistics that showed violent crime increased in 2016 for the second consecutive year, the number of murders committed in the city decreased for the second straight year while a significant rise in the number of rapes could be attributable to an increase in the reporting of sexual assaults to police.
The FBI on Monday issued its 2016 crime report, which consists of data collected from police agencies across the country and released annually. Violent crimes are those committed against people and fall into one of four categories: murder and non-negligent manslaughter; rape; robbery; and aggravated assault.
The FBI data do not include justifiable homicides or unintentional killings that result from recklessness or criminal negligence, such as killing someone while driving drunk.
In 2016, violent crime increased nationally by 4.1 percent compared to 2015, with murder increasing by 8.6 percent during that time, The New York Times reported. That increase comes one year after violent crime increased 3.9 percent and murders by 10.8 percent.
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Both The New York Times and The Associated Press noted the Trump administration has repeatedly said the nation is in the midst of a crime wave that requires more arrests and harsher penalties, including for drug crimes.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday called on law enforcement to “confront and turn back the rising tide of violent crime,” the AP reported, noting Sessions has used the threat of rising violence as an impetus for many of his sweeping policy changes — including seeking tougher sentences and focusing on prosecuting gun cases.
But criminologists warned the new numbers may not indicate the start of a long-term trend because violent crime remains well below rates seen in the 1980s and early 1990s. And even compared to a decade ago, violent crime in 2016 is 18 percent lower than it was in 2007, and the murder rate is 6 percent lower than it was then, according to AP.
Seattle’s violent-crime rate increased 4.9 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, following a 2.4 percent increase between 2014 and 2015, the FBI data show. Seattle, Bellevue, Everett and Tacoma combined saw a 8.2 percent increase in 2016 over the previous year, on the heels of a 4.4-percent increase in violent crime between 2014 and 2015, according to the data.
In Seattle, murders decreased 17 percent in 2016 compared to the previous year, but the numbers are relatively small: 23 murders in 2015 versus 19 this past year, the FBI data say.
The decrease was even more striking when the number of murders in Bellevue, Everett, Seattle and Tacoma were combined, which showed a drop of more than 20 percent, from 42 to 33, during the same time period. The four cities also had a combined 42 murders in 2014, the FBI data show.
Seattle police reported to the FBI that 254 rapes were committed in the city last year, a number that represents a 76 percent increase over the 144 rapes listed in the FBI’s 2015 crime report.
“I don’t have an explanation,” said Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, which provides counseling and legal advocacy to child and adult victims of sexual violence.
Rape is vastly underreported as it is, said Stone, who discussed the dramatic increase in 2016 rape cases with Seattle police officials. She and others assume the increase is a result of more victims coming forward to report being raped to police — “and that’s a good thing,” Stone said.
Between 2014 and 2015, the number of rapes in Seattle actually dropped from 154 to 144, and across the four cities, from 356 to 354, the FBI data show.
Robberies in Seattle increased 1 percent in 2016 over 2015, slightly below the 3 percent increase seen in Seattle, Bellevue, Everett and Tacoma combined.
Across the four cities, aggravated assaults — which typically result in serious bodily injury — rose 10 percent last year over the previous year, with Seattle alone seeing a 3 percent increase during that time, the FBI data show.
Washington state added nearly 128,000 people to its population in 2016, bringing the estimated total to just under 7.3 million. The overall violent-crime rate rose 7.4 percent in 2016 over 2015, with the murder rate decreasing nearly 11 percent statewide during that time, according to the FBI.