Seattle’s in the grip of a potentially record-setting spree of shootings this year. You wouldn’t know it to listen to the politicians around here.
Shots fired are on the rise in the city. So as they do sometimes, politicians convened recently in the South End vowing action.
“This is the best way to keep a safe city safer,” pledged Mayor Ed Murray, at a news conference in Rainier Beach where he promised to install special technology, a gunshot-detection system, to at least deter some of the violent lawlessness.
“Losing one life is too many, and we are taking action,” echoed Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell, flanked by three other council members.
“I’ve never seen so many politicians down here,” a longtime Rainier Valley resident cracked to the media.
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Oh wait, my bad. None of this happened “recently.” That news conference, with its flock of politicians plus the police chief, was last summer — on June 2, 2016, which was National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
Since then, the number of shootings has only escalated. Through July 17 this year, there have been 232 reports of shots fired — up an alarming 22 percent over last year. The city’s South Precinct is home to 108 of those, three times more than any other part of Seattle.
That promised gunshot-locater system? Never installed.
“That’s how it’s been going in the South End for 40 years,” says the Rev. Harriett Walden, a public-safety activist who took part in the 2016 news conference. “They promise a lot of stuff they never deliver. If it was Wallingford, that system would be up and operating.”
The gunshot-locater system pledged a year ago uses microphones placed around a crime hot spot to triangulate the precise time and place a gun is fired. Some systems then activate any nearby cameras. The city was going to put them in Rainier Valley and the Central Area.
Funded with a federal grant, the system apparently has been hung up in local and national politics. First, the changeover to a new presidential administration delayed things. But lately, there have been political concerns that Seattle, a sanctuary city for immigrants, might eventually lose some federal grants.
Brian Maxey, chief operating officer for the Seattle police, said they continue to have strong interest in putting up the detectors. Ditto for South End community groups, he said. Walden, who heads Mothers for Police Accountability, said she has pushed for locaters and cameras for years and the city would have installed them in Rainier Valley by now “if there was the political will.”
Technology like this is just one tool; it’s hard to know whether it would make a real dent. What rankles is that city leaders led on the beleaguered South End by holding a dog-and-pony show down there in the first place.
It’s also practically dereliction of political duty that all the shootings this year aren’t getting more attention — and I mean sustained attention, not the one-off news-conference variety.
Seattle is on pace to set a record for gunshots fired in a year. The number of injury shootings is up 36 percent from 2016. But you’d never know that listening to, say, the campaigns for Seattle mayor. Mostly the candidates never mention crime on the stump. On their campaign websites, there’s more discussion of climate change. If they cite public safety, it’s to talk about how to better watchdog the cops.
For their part, the police stepped up patrols in the South End in May, when the shootings jumped sharply. But among candidates to run the city, former Mayor Mike McGinn has been almost alone in sounding alarms about the shooting spree.
“There were two people murdered at Rainier Playfield,” McGinn said at a recent forum in West Seattle (citing back-to-back shootings there this month.) “There were 30 shots fired down at Golden Gardens on a summer night. This is something we need to be on. The first step is, the city needs to acknowledge that this is an emergency.”
Sure, start there. Then, for Rainier Valley’s long-suffering sake, some follow-up beyond the photo op would be a welcome change.