The Seattle Police Department (SPD) released its annual report on 2022’s crime statistics, showing a 4 percent increase in overall crime.
While violent crime and property crime each increased by 4 percent, violent crime hit a 15-year high. Property crime, on the other hand, is still lower than its peak in 2014 and comparable with 2013 and 2015’s totals. Homicide and motor-vehicle theft were the biggest drivers of increase in violent and property crime, respectively.
Homicides were up 24 percent over 2021 at 52, the second highest number in recent years. There were 53 homicides in 2020. While that statistic alone is cause for alarm, data on who is dying by homicide tells an even more troubling story.
Homicides with what SPD refers to as a “homelessness nexus” went up by 11 incidents in 2022. Bias crimes against unhoused individuals, while still low compared to racial bias incidents, shot up by an alarming 229 percent in 2022.
Jamie Housen, the mayor’s director of communications, said of the increased killings among unhoused individuals and the increased bias incidents against the unhoused, “As the mayor has said, every person deserves to feel safe and to be safe — no matter their housing status. While the intersection of crime and homelessness is nuanced, the nexus of encampments and shootings represent significant safety issues for unhoused and housed residents.”
To improve safety for both housed and unhoused residents, he continued, the city would continue working “to bring people indoors with urgency and compassion,” noting that the city’s HOPE team had offered 1,800 referrals to shelter in 2022 and touting new tiny home villages and vehicle residency safe lots set to open in 2023.
While this year’s report focused more on how the unhoused are victimized by violence or bias crimes than on relating homelessness to shots fired, as the 2021 report did, a heatmap of shots fired included in the 2022 report shows that gun crime was concentrated in the Chinatown-International District (CID). This suggests a similar overexposure to violence for unhoused individuals, as the neighborhood is home to a significant number of encampments.
On Feb. 10, SPD and the Seattle Fire Department recovered several guns, bags of fentanyl pills and $7,000 in cash after responding to a fire at an encampment near Kobe Terrace Park. In 2021, Trenton Harris, a chronically homeless man who, according to his mother, Jennifer Dobbins, was addicted to opiates, was shot to death in the same park. At a Jan. 11 Women in Black vigil for people who died outside or by violence in King County, Dobbins said she had received no updates from SPD about the case.
“Gun violence in the CID, including that at encampments, is a major issue for the mayor, as it is for the communities who live in that neighborhood and have experienced it,” Housen said, listing several CID groups that the city funds to fight violence.
An SPD spokesperson did not return requests for comment.
Tobias Coughlin-Bogue is the associate editor at Real Change.
Read more of the Feb. 22-28, 2023 issue.