A chaotic and violent few hours this weekend, in which a woman was fatally stabbed and two men were shot, stretched the Seattle Police Department’s resources, Police Chief Carmen Best said at a news conference Monday where she called for the public’s support to help bolster the department’s ranks.
The fatal stabbing of a woman at Cal Anderson Park early Sunday was bracketed by the two shootings, one of which occurred during a large fight at Seattle Center that left a man critically injured with a gunshot wound to the neck. The second shooting occurred along the Seattle waterfront and sent a man to the hospital with a gunshot wound to the leg.
The weekend’s violence, with the stabbing and shootings reported to police in a span of less than two hours, “highlights the fact we have some critical staffing issues,” Best, flanked by members of her command staff, said at the news briefing Monday at the department’s West Precinct.
“We really need the support of our public officials and the public,” she said. “We are losing good people, and we know it’s because they don’t feel supported by public officials.”
She described exit interviews at which departing officers pointed to critical comments made about Seattle police by members of the City Council as contributing to their decision to leave. Best couldn’t provide numbers Monday for how many more officers she thinks the department needs, but she said if officers assigned to extra “emphasis patrols” hadn’t been working Saturday night and Sunday morning, there would have been 25 fewer people to respond to and investigate the weekend’s violent crimes.
The Seattle Times reported Monday that three City Council members sent a sharply worded letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan, rebuking what they describe as a recalcitrant strategy toward addressing police-accountability flaws. The letter calls on Durkan to ask the powerful Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) to reopen its contract with the city to fix deficiencies that prompted U.S. District Judge James Robart to find the city partly out of compliance with federally mandated reforms.
Asked about the consent decree and possibly reopening contract negotiations, Best said, “We’re going to do all that’s required of us.”
Best’s comments about the weekend violence spilled into an afternoon news conference in which Councilmembers M. Lorena González and Lisa Herbold outlined their reasons for sending the letter to Durkan. Some reporters repeatedly asked about the chief’s remarks, forcing González and Herbold to defend their dealings with the police department.
Herbold said she had voted for a big boost in the Police Department budget and voted in favor of a new collective-bargaining agreement containing large pay hikes and $40 million in back pay. González also pointed to the council’s authorization in March of $15,000 bonuses to attract trained officers from other police departments, as well as $7,500 for new recruits, an amendment she sponsored.
González, who heads the council’s public-safety committee, said reforms have not interfered with the ability of police to do “good operations” like those seen over the weekend.
“I think the best thing for morale at the city of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department is to get out from under the consent decree,” Gonzalez said.
At Best’s news conference, which she said was not in response to the council members’ actions, the chief reiterated that the department needs to recruit and retain personnel. She said she doesn’t want to see politics undermine public safety.
“The situation at Seattle Center was a real melee,” the chief said.
Officers from every precinct responded to Second Avenue and Mercer Street, where a large fight broke out just before 2 a.m. Sunday. As officers tried to disperse the crowd, a man was shot, which amped up the crowd’s hostility toward officers, said Detective Mark Jamieson, a department spokesman.
A witness told The Seattle Times on Sunday that the crowd was not hostile but instead shocked and distraught. Jamieson, however, said it “was not a passive, peaceful crowd offering their assistance. It was not under control for a period of time.
“A citywide call-out is not something we take lightly,” he added.
The man who was shot remains in critical condition in the intensive-care unit, said Susan Gregg, a spokeswoman for Harborview Medical Center.
Police arrested a suspect in the shooting. The 22-year-old man made his first court appearance Monday afternoon, when a judge found probable cause to hold him on investigation of assault, according to King County prosecutors. He remains jailed in lieu of $50,000 bail, jail records show.
Jamieson explained the department has a long practice of designating certain squads within each of the department’s five precincts to respond to significant events, with the rest of the precinct’s officers providing cover if a squad is pulled into a citywide call. On Sunday, third-watch officers — who usually get off work around 4 a.m. — were held over to work through the 911 calls that stacked up as officers responded to violent emergencies, he said.
Less than 40 minutes after the fight broke out at Seattle Center, police responded to Cal Anderson Park, where a 25-year-old woman was stabbed in the chest. Officers arrived within five minutes of receiving the 911 call and performed CPR until medics arrived, according to Jamieson, who said the situation at the Seattle Center did not cause any delay in police response. The woman died a short time later at Harborview. Police did not have enough information to release a suspect description, and no arrests have been made, he said.
An hour after the stabbing, at 3:45 a.m., officers responded to the 400 block of Alaskan Way South, where a man had been shot in the leg. Officers applied a tourniquet to the man’s leg, and he was taken to Harborview, Jamieson said. The shooting investigation will be assigned to a detective, but Jamieson didn’t have a description of the gunman and confirmed no one had been arrested.
Seattle Times reporter Steve Miletich contributed to this report.