At a meeting with the Sodo Business Association on June 30, Mayor Greg Nickels proudly mentioned Seattle's "40-year low in the crime rate"—a 2007 stat that he always mentions. "It's likely that with the recession, we'll see that number bounce back up," Nickels told the crowd. And indeed, crime appears to already be back in style. Statistics released late last month by the Seattle Police Department (SPD) paint a bleak picture of crime in the city.
Department records show incidents of homicide and rape rose 21 percent and 40 percent respectively in 2008. While those numbers have dipped slightly this year—according to SPD statistics for the first four months of 2009—crimes like burglary and robbery continue to climb. SPD statistics say that in 2007, there were 1,522 robberies in Seattle. In 2008, that number rose 6 percent to 1,612. In the first four months of 2009, police say there were 570 robberies, up a whopping 25 percent from the same period last year. Burglaries climbed 10 percent in the beginning of 2009, and some homeowners are becoming increasingly frustrated with the department's response.
After owning their Hillman City home for 10 years, Bassim and Kara Dowidar packed up and moved to North Seattle after their house was broken into five times in the last four years.
"We never got any support from the city," Kara Dowidar says. "We felt like the burglaries were going under their radar because they didn't involve anything violent."
Dowidar says that over the years, she and her husband repeatedly upgraded their home alarm system, but the break-ins continued—and when they contacted command staff at the South Precinct, they seemed unconcerned. She says that when her home was burglarized on Memorial Day this year, it took officers seven hours to show up. That's when the Dowidars decided to move. "We got scared out of our house, and that's a horrible thing," she says. "The stuff that got stolen was stuff. But it's the crime in the area. Things are not changing, and that's really what made us go. We didn't feel like we could be safe."
Along with the increasing number of brazen burglaries, police reports also anecdotally indicate that robberies are becoming increasingly violent. From police reports for last weekend alone: On June 26, a group of teens attacked an exchange student in South Seattle, beat him, and stole his camera. The next day, a motorist reported he'd been robbed at knifepoint in West Seattle by a group of young men. On Sunday, June 28, a group of young men shot another man in the head with a pellet gun and stole his cell phone in downtown Seattle. That same day, four men wearing black bandanas pulled a gun on a woman in Squire Park and stole her purse. According to a police report, one teen told the woman to "suck his dick" if she wanted her purse back. The following day, June 29, a Capitol Hill woman says a man pulled a gun on her and demanded her iPod. The woman took off running, but the man chased her down, tackled her, and took her iPod.
In an interview with The Stranger earlier this month, interim police chief John Diaz pointed to "job losses and the economy" as significant contributing factors to the rise in crime in Seattle. SPD spokeswoman Renee Witt says the department is aware of an "uptick in crime" and will be increasing its presence around the city in the coming months. She says the department has hired on additional officers and will deploy additional bike and mounted patrols this summer. "We definitely are paying attention," Witt says.