Seattle police are investigating multiple weekend shootings that left two people dead, at least two people wounded and sent officers seeking suspects in neighborhoods across the city.
This continues the 2021 trend of increased gunfire, including five shootings earlier in the week. In one of these, police say two teenagers shot at each other outside a Southeast Seattle school. There were 420 cases of gunfire in Seattle last year, and 370 so far in 2021, far higher than normal, interim police Chief Adrian Diaz said Saturday.
Two people died Saturday in the Lake City neighborhood, where dispatchers received a 911 call a few minutes before 4 p.m., in the 3000 block of Northeast 140th. Police found the two people dead of apparent gunshot wounds inside an apartment. A spokesperson said the fired shots endangered people in nearby units.
Police don’t have plans for major change in reaction to the latest violence. The department says it’s already stretched thin, after losing nearly 300 officers in 2020-21. Only 70 patrol the city at night nowadays, compared to 110 at full staffing, said Diaz.
However, Diaz said he’ll continue targeted emphasis patrols, such as extra police around nightclubs on weekends, that started a few weeks ago. That meant 85 to 90 officers out Friday night, or matters could have been worse, he said.
The flurry of shootings began at about 11 p.m. Friday, when a 32-year-old man was hit in the shoulder by a stray bullet downtown, and found hiding in a Pine Street bus tunnel entrance. He was taken to Harborview Medical Center, police said.
Witnesses say the man was hit as two other men were shooting at each other near Second Avenue and Pine Street, according to police, but no suspects have been identified. Police reported finding 11 shell casings.
At 11:45 p.m. Friday in Pioneer Square, a nightclub employee reported a fight and gunshots outside at Occidental Avenue South and Yesler Way. There were no reports of injuries, according to police.
Arriving officers pursued a car leaving the area until it crashed at 21st Avenue and Yesler Way, according to police. Two of the four people in the car fled, but were later found and booked into jail. Three firearms and some spent shell casings were found in the vehicle.
“We were in the area, able to observe one of the vehicles leaving the scene,” because of the summer task-force patrols, where half of officers stay around hot spots, Diaz said.
In West Seattle at 1:20 a.m. Saturday, police responded to a shooting report in the 1900 block of Harbor Avenue Southwest, south of the water-taxi dock.
A 22-year-old man was injured in a fight, then shot at when he tried to run away, according to police. The other person involved in the fight was not found, according to police. During the shooting, a bullet went through a van parked along the road, missing a woman asleep inside.
Later, in the Chinatown International District, a 28-year-old man was shot in a parking lot at 12th Avenue South and South Main Street, after a fight at a club, Seattle police said witnesses told them.
Police arrived at 1:45 a.m. to find the man with gunshot wounds to the chest. He was taken to Harborview Medical Center with life-threatening injuries, according to police. Police did not report any arrests.
The four overnight gunfire cases remain under investigation, but there don’t appear to be obvious connections between incidents or people involved, said Detective Patrick Michaud, police spokesperson.
“It’s pretty widespread. It sounds like a bunch of people got mad, and shot at each other,” Michaud said.
Diaz attributes increased gunfire in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the mental strains of isolation from school or work. Besides law enforcement, Seattle needs to support de-escalation groups, and the community needs more mental health services, he said.
Road rage, encampment disputes, and youth violence all seem to be worsening, he said.
“Human interaction is a perishable skill,” Diaz said.
Police assigned the cases to the Gun Violence Prevention Unit. Those officers will log data and try to recover the firearms, to look for links with previous crimes that could result in tougher prosecutions, Michaud said.
Homicides are up 42% nationally since early 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., and also rising in the Northwest, a budget report from Mayor Jenny Durkan said.
Durkan called for bonuses to recruit and retain officers, and alternatives such as “specialized triage response,” that sends health and social-service professionals instead of police for certain 911 calls.
A majority of City Council members endorsed a 50% defunding of police last year, after nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer. However, their actual cuts have been much less.
Seattle employed 1,070 sworn officers in July. Full staffing would mean 1,343 officers, the budget report says.
Last year 186 officers left the department, outpacing recruits for a net loss of 135 officers, while an additional 100 left in the first half of 2021 with only 38 hired, said the July 23 report.
“Mayor Durkan hopes City Council will approve the hiring and retention plan for SPD to address the real staffing needs of the department,” said a Saturday statement from her chief of staff, Stephanie Formas.