Summer gun violence is sadly predictably in America. It’s almost like clockwork—as the temperature goes up gunfire becomes more common in cities across the country, and Seattle is no different. Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start to summer, ended in Seattle with a shootout in the Rainier Beach area that sent a woman, her 10-month-old child, and an unrelated 10-year-old to Harborview Hospital with gunshot wounds.
Monday’s shooting comes after a spate of spring shootings in the Central District and Capitol Hill that included a homicide near Cal Anderson Park's basketball court during a crowded evening and at least five shootings in the first two weeks of May alone, according to the exhaustive crime reporting from the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog.
While summer gun violence isn’t unusual, there is something different about this year’s spate of gun violence: it’s happening in an election year. Seven of the nine Seattle City Council seats are up for grabs, including seats representing the Central District and Capitol Hill (Council District 3) and Rainier Valley (Council District 2). A massive portion of the city budget goes to police issues and council members can directly vote on city policing policies, so what do the candidates who want to represent areas experiencing a string of high-profile shootings intend to do about gun violence?
Mayor Jenny Durkan’s current approach to confronting these shootings includes so-called emphasis patrols, in which police officers are dispatched to patrol the streets between 911 calls as one way to combat crime in the city.
Durkan announced last month that seven different neighborhoods were selected for the patrols based on "community input and data analysis," according to a press release. That original list didn't include District 3 or the Rainier Valley in District 2, where the recent shootings occurred, but Durkan went straight to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to assure business owners that her administration has an approach to combating the gun violence, which she described as gang-related. The approach, she said, balances both community programs and deploying more police in the neighborhood.
"We’re very sensitive, you know, a lot of communities don’t want to be overpoliced either," Durkan explained. "We don’t want to send a message that they are somehow more unsafe, but we also want to be realistic to make sure that there isn’t a repeat of this type of gun violence. So we will continue, through both our regular police patrols and our gang work, to be working in the parts of the city where there are those conflicts right now."
Do the people running for office in District 2 and 3 agree that increasing the on-the-ground police presence is the best way to combat gun violence in their neighborhoods?
I asked all 13 people running in the two districts whether they want more emphasis patrols in their neighborhoods. The majority of candidates who responded agree that putting more cops on the street is warranted, with six candidates calling for the emphasis patrols (in District 2, those candidates are Phyllis Porter, Ari Hoffman, and Mark Solomon; in District 3, those candidates are Logan Bowers, Zachary DeWolf, and Egan Orion).
Two candidates said outright that the city should not use more cops on the streets to combat the violence, with District 3 candidate Ami Nguyen and District 2 candidate Omari Tahir-Garrett opposing emphasis patrols.
Three candidates said they were troubled by the thought of more cops on the street but did not explicitly support or oppose emphasis patrols. These troubled candidates included District 2's Tammy Morales and District 3's current council member, Kshama Sawant.
Three other candidates (Chris Peguero, Henry Dennison, and Pat Murakami) did not respond to my request.
Additionally, every candidate who responded essentially said that police alone can't solve the problem — so let’s check out what, exactly, the people vying for a spot on the council want to do in response to the shootings in their districts.
DISTRICT 2—South Seattle
South Seattle’s District 2 spans nearly all of South Seattle and includes SoDo and Georgetown, two neighborhoods that were targeted in the round of emphasis patrols Durkan announced in April.
But the Rainier Valley neighborhoods on the other side of Beacon Hill did not receive Durkan's special patrols. Instead, they have been receiving standard emphasis patrols focusing on “gun violence,” according to Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, a spokesperson for SPD. Spangenthal-Lee declined to say exactly how long the patrols have been conducted, but he suggested they'd been running since before the recent shootings.
Should these neighborhoods get special, additional emphasis patrols, just like the seven other neighborhoods targeted by Durkan? Council candidates Phyllis Porter, Mark Solomon, and Ari Hoffman all said yes.
Solomon, who has worked with SPD for 29 years, including in his recent assignment as a crime prevention coordinator, said emphasis patrols should be used but community programs for at-risk youth are even more helpful in solving the problem.
“What’s going to make a change is not necessarily more emphasis patrols, but reaching out to young persons individually and wrapping your arms around them and getting them to know that they are valued and getting them to value others,” Solomon said in a phone interview.
Porter called for more funding for a variety of services in addition to the emphasis patrols.
“I believe that emphasis patrols are effective in the short term, although they don't do anything to address the root causes of these problems," Porter said in an e-mail. "We need to be implementing policy to address the root causes of the issues: increased access to affordable housing, jobs that pay a living wage, reliable transportation, and increased funding for mental health services."
Hoffman said he's running because there’s “definitely a massive problem with violent crime and property crime,” and that he supports emphasis patrols. But Hoffman added that he's worried the SPD is too short-staffed to conduct the patrols without taking away from other necessary work.
“I think the emphasis patrols are part of the solution, but the challenge with emphasis patrols is where are you taking it from?" Hoffman said. "You need to recruit more officers. That’s the solution, not moving around officers."
Tammy Morales, who in 2015 nearly beat District 2’s incumbent, Council President Bruce Harrell, did not clearly say whether she supports the emphasis patrols.
“Emphasis patrols might increase surveillance of the district, but I don't think they would prevent random interpersonal violence," Morales said in an e-mail. "I worry that these patrols will lead to over-policing of our community. If we want to reverse course, we need to invest in our communities with high-quality education, safe affordable housing, mental health and counseling services, family-wage jobs."
Omari Tahir-Garrett, a longtime activist in central Seattle with a troubling track record (including spending 21 months in jail for assaulting former Mayor Paul Schell in 2001), said he did not support bringing more police into the neighborhood.
“Police are the problem," Tahir-Garrett said in a phone interview. "More police, more problems."
District 2 candidates Chris Peguero and Henry Dennison did not respond to a request for comment.
DISTRICT 3 — Capitol Hill, Central District, Montlake, Madison Valley
Capitol Hill receives emphasis patrols every summer to deal with the influx of crowds into the neighborhood’s nightlife area, and those emphasis patrols are on their way, according to Durkan.
The SPD is also using those other “gun violence” patrols in the district, according to the SPD’s Spangenthal-Lee. But should even more emphasis patrols be used?
District 3’s incumbent council member, Kshama Sawant, wouldn’t say whether she supports or doesn’t support the patrols. She did say she thinks communities of color should be involved in any decision-making, and she called for increasing business taxes to fund more community programs.
“Decades of statistical evidence demonstrates that we will not be able to police or arrest our way out of this crisis," Sawant said, "because it is fundamentally rooted in the ills of a broken system."
Sawant’s opponents were quick to attack her record on this issue.
Zachary DeWolf, a current school board member, questioned whether Sawant has made any meaningful progress on public safety issues.
“Instead of asking prospective candidates what they think, you need to be asking the six-year incumbent what they have done and/or will do," DeWolf said in an e-mail. "People are dying because of guns. Hold our elected leaders accountable… What has she done to address gun violence in our communities?”
DeWolf added that he does support emphasis patrols as part of a broader solution.
“More cops cannot be the only answer," De Wolf added. "Systems violence hurts poor, black and brown, and LGBTQ communities disproportionately."
Logan Bowers said we do not have a crime crisis but rather a “conservative media crisis." He explained: "Violent crime is up in the city and particularly in District 3. We haven’t reached crisis proportions yet, but the city needs to address the rising level of gun and gang violence before more innocent bystanders are hurt or killed.”
Bowers added that he supports using emphasis patrols but called for a “clear, measurable goal” so the city can know if the patrols are working.
Ami Nguyen was the one candidate in District 3 to clearly come out against emphasis patrols, saying the city should instead invest in jobs and youth counseling programs.
“Emphasis patrols should not be used because rather than solving the problem, it may cause more racial tension between people of color and the Seattle police department," Nguyen said. "Rather than addressing and resolving discriminatory policing, emphasis patrols will just be used to rationalize it. We have seen this over and over again."
Egan Orion was the only council candidate to take part in a community walk around Capitol Hill on Monday with Durkan, who was touring the neighborhood talking about these new emphasis patrols. Orion told me as we were walking down Broadway that he supports the emphasis patrols.
“Yes, there are places where [more police] might be needed," Orion said, "but we also have to take into account communities like people of color and trans communities, who have a history with law enforcement that makes it so they don’t trust cops as much. So we have to be sensitive about where we put cops because we may not be actually creating safe neighborhoods."
Orion sees Sawant as being largely absent from responding to these types of issues.
“I think if you talk to residents in my area, you will hear the same thing over and over again, that their attempts to talk to Councilmember Sawant have gone unanswered," Orion said. "I think if it's not about displacement, or rent control, or a post office, you’re generally not going to see Councilmember Sawant come out and engage with the neighborhood."