After a string of shootings and reports of shots fired in the Central District, Seattle Police plan to send K-9 and SWAT teams to the neighborhood.
After a series of shootings in the Central District, Seattle police have stepped up patrols in the area, but the department would not say how many active investigations involving gun violence in the neighborhood are ongoing.
Since the beginning of August, Seattle police have investigated at least half a dozen shootings or reports of shots fired in the Central District and nearby Capitol Hill, according to information posted on the department’s online blotter and incidents confirmed by a police spokesman. The latest incident came a week ago Friday, when a man died after a shooting near 24th Avenue and East Yesler Way.
Witnesses reported shots fired just after 3:15 p.m. and said a green sedan fled the area, according to Seattle police. The victim arrived at Harborview by private vehicle Friday, according to the hospital. He later died at the hospital, according to police. The man was 38-year-old Marshall Bennett, according to the Medical Examiner, who ruled Bennett’s death a homicide.
Neighborhood residents have contacted the Seattle Police Department, mayor and city council members seeking answers on what SPD’s data shows is a slight increase in gun violence over previous years.While incidents of shootings or shots fired are up compared with this point in past years, “they are not at historically unusual levels,” SPD Chief Strategy Officer Christopher Fisher wrote in a letter to Seattle City Council Member M. Lorena González the day Bennett was shot. Calls to police from the “Central Area/Squire Park” neighborhood are up about 2.5 percent from this past year, Fisher wrote.
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So far this year, Seattle police have confirmed 14 reports of shots fired and three nonfatal shootings in the Central Area, according to SPD data provided by spokesman Patrick Michaud. However, those numbers don’t include active investigations, including the shooting that killed Bennett.
At this time last year, there had been 11 shootings or incidents of shots fired in the Central Area. In 2016, there had been 14, according to SPD data included in the letter to González. The area saw a spike in 2015 with 33 shooting incidents at this point in the year. The years of 2012 to 2014 ranged between 12 and 14 at this time.
A Seattle Times analysis of 911 calls in the area found a similar trend in 911 calls related to gun crimes on police beats in the Central Area. Two out of four beats in the area saw slight increases in reports of possible armed robberies, assaults involving firearms, drive-by shootings, shots heard and person with a gun. However, the increases were not significant compared with past years going back to 2014.
Neither number tells a complete story, because SPD’s data does not include investigations that are still active and 911 calls may include duplicate calls for the same incidents. The department did not provide the number of current active investigations involving shootings or reports of shots fired in the Central Area by press time.
Saying they’ve received emails from concerned constituents, city council members attempted to calm public fears during a briefing Monday.
“These are not random acts of gun violence,” González said. “They are targeted acts of gun violence. And the police department is marshaling its resources in a manner to make sure that we address this in a regional way because these are regional issues.”
Council Member Kshama Sawant said the incidents “are gang related.” Fisher stopped short of calling the shootings gang violence. In the letter, Fisher wrote that “most of the recent incidents are related to conflicts arising between groups/crews.” In a statement provided through a spokesman, Fisher said “groups of individuals” are involved, but he didn’t know whether the department’s gang unit had officially determined they are members of gangs.
The department has increased officer presence in the area and will send K-9 and SWAT teams to the neighborhood when they’re not responding to calls, Fisher wrote. The department is also working with community organizations to intervene in “emerging and ongoing conflicts,” he wrote.
Stephanie Tschida, chair of East Precinct Advisory Council, said her group has received the same data from SPD showing that this year’s incidents are not dramatically out of line with past years. “It doesn’t comfort people when they live on a street that’s experienced gunshot incidents,” she said. Joanna Cullen, another member of the advisory council, wrote to González and Sawant asking them to attend a community meeting. “There seems to have been a disturbing trend especially in the Central District,” Cullen wrote.
Responses to the incidents in the neighborhood vary from demands for more officers to calls for more programs to support young people who may get involved in gun violence, Tschida said. Black Lives Matter: Seattle-King County wrote in a statement on Facebook that increased policing in the area “jeopardizes the safety of people of color” and called on the city to increase the number of outreach workers in the neighborhood. In an email, the group declined to comment further.
Seattle Times data researcher Justin Mayo contributed to this story.