Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell renewed his commitment to public safety Friday, offering crime data but no tangible policy changes.
Harrell, who took office in January, named gun crimes, organized theft and open-air drug sales, among other offenses, as top priorities for the new administration, citing 2021 crime statistics which show steep increases.
According to the Seattle Police Department’s 2021 Year End Crime Report, released this week, overall crime in Seattle rose 10% in 2021 over 2020, including in several key areas cited by Harrell:
▪ Aggravated assaults rose by 24%, or over 600 incidents, the highest reported amount in a decade.
▪ Verified criminal shootings and shots fired rose by 40%, or 175 incidents, compared with 2020, and an 86% (283 incidents) increase over 2019.
▪ Total violent crime — categorized in the report as homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults — increased by 20%, reaching the highest level in 14 years.
“We will not tolerate crimes that signal a city is out of control or looking the other way,” Harrell said, echoing remarks he made in his inaugural speech exactly one month earlier.
In Friday’s news conference with interim Seattle police Chief Adrian Diaz, Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell and Deputy Mayor of Housing and Homelessness Tiffany Washington, Harrell said he will address the uptick in crime by focusing on areas with a high volume of reported crimes and emergency calls.
“I’ve directed Chief Diaz to focus his efforts on those places in our city where crime is concentrated first, [where crime is] disrupting the lives of the people who live and work there,” Harrell said.
For example, Harrell said SPD focused on the high crime area of 12th and Jackson in the Chinatown International District in January and made 23 felony arrests and 14 misdemeanor arrests, recovered stolen property on 24 occasions, seized narcotics on 10 occasions and engaged in over 100 other interactions with local business owners during the first 21 days of the his administration.
Diaz embraced Harrell’s emphasis on community, noting that he has “been doing community walks [and] meeting with business owners and residents” to address concerns around rising crime.
“And we will continue to work with our community partners on preventing crime in our neighborhoods,” Diaz said.
While Diaz mentioned a “number of hot spots” that will be addressed, neither he nor Harrell’s office would provide a requested list of the priority areas.
When asked to detail the areas of concern and how they would be prioritized, Harrell declined to share specifics.
“Well if you want to know where, just read the blogs,” he said. “The public knows where they are. Most people know where they are. The Police Department knows where they are. So I don’t want to start calling out intersections and calling out streets.”
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office confirmed after the news conference that the administration shared a preliminary list of priority areas with Diaz, which may be expanded in collaboration with SPD. The mayor’s office refused to share the list publicly on Friday.
Harrell also committed to addressing gun crimes specifically, calling on Diaz to “focus on the relatively few individuals causing the most harm in these places, with a special focus on those using guns.”
As a long-term strategy, Harrell called upon the state to lift preemption law in order to allow the city to regulate firearms, which is not currently allowed.
“My proposition is that every city should be able to look at that space, because I know what kinds of things I would like to be able to do if I had that flexibility as a mayor, and our City Council had that flexibility as a legislative body,” Harrell said.
Last month, the administration identified the preemption law as a legislative priority, specifically noting the possibility of regulating guns in parks.
The Downtown Seattle Association supported Harrell’s promises toward reducing crime and called for action on the issues raised by the mayor.
“We appreciate Mayor Harrell’s acknowledgment of the serious circumstances we’re facing, and his commitment to action,” a spokesperson for the group said. “Improving safety is essential to downtown’s recovery and to employers reopening offices. As the mayor said today, we all want to see tangible change.”
Harrell and Diaz committed to working with other city departments and partners to provide addiction and mental health services, shelter resources and other appropriate responses in instances where law enforcement isn’t the best or only solution.
“We want to make valid, lawful arrest where possible, but we also want to offer support where needed,” Harrell said.
Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold praised the approach.
“I applaud Mayor Harrell’s attention to public safety in Seattle and calling for a multilayered approach to address the challenges we face,” she said in an emailed statement, recognizing the increase in crime.
“With fewer sworn officers, we need comprehensive approaches that blend both traditional public safety and innovative community safety approaches.”