New statistics show overall crime in Seattle increased 9 percent in 2014, but also suggest that new efforts by the Seattle Police Department are bending the curve.
While the overall number of crimes went up, the rate of increase is lower than expected. Preliminary numbers released in September (which broke down crimes over an eight month period) indicated a 13 percent jump in crime in 2014, compared to the prior year.
SPD’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Mike Wagers credits the department’s officers, and a new data-driven policing program, SeaStat, which uses crime statistics and community reports of incidents to quickly address crime hotspots.
“SeaStat works,” Wagers said Thursday. “While it’s not a panacea, we’ve shown that data-driven policing can reduce crime by providing timely information that helps our commanders and officers more effectively target crime problems. If we focus on something we make a difference.”
Case in point, street robberies – an area of concern on Capitol Hill and other parts of the city late last year – are down 7 percent overall compared to 2013. Residential and commercial burglaries dropped by 4 percent combined.
Also, numbers released in September indicated a 44 percent jump in auto thefts compared to 2013. However, a targeted emphasis on the problem substantially reduced the number of vehicles stolen in the following months. The department ended the year with a 28 percent increase in auto thefts. That’s no cause to celebrate, but it shows SeaStat is making a dent in crime, Wagers said, by focusing on problem locations, prolific offenders and repeat victims.
Year-end citywide numbers released by the department Wednesday show 44,419 crimes reported overall in 2014, compared to 40,697 during the same time period last year, an increase of roughly 3,700 crimes, or 9 percent.
Car prowls and auto thefts account for roughly 90 percent of the overall increase. There were 20,708 crimes in those two categories this year compared to 17,334 last year, up 3,374. Focused efforts by SPD’s major crimes unit has reduced the number prowls in recent months.
In terms of violent crimes, there were 26 homicides in 2014 compared to 23 in 2013. There were 128 rapes reported, compared to 101 the prior year. (In 2012, there were 121 rapes reported.) The report shows 2,259 aggravated assaults, compared to 1,972 the prior year.
Initial numbers heading into 2015 show a promising trend. For example, during the first 17 days of the year (compared to the same time period in 2014):
• Auto Theft is down 17%
• Car Prowls are down 23 percent.
• Aggravated Assaults are down 12%
• Domestic Violence Aggravated Assaults are down 30%
• Residential Burglaries are down 33%
The department, as part of SeaStat, is continuing to drill down into the numbers to get real-time information on murders, assaults, burglaries and other serious crimes to help identify emerging trends. It’s also using community feedback on neighborhood crime.
Police departments around the country, including New York and Los Angeles, use variations of SeaStat to combat crime and disorder. Other areas commonly refer to the process as Compstat (short for computer statistics). Chief Kathleen O’Toole started SeaStat in August. The Department holds meetings every two weeks, involving staff throughout the department and other agencies, to discuss the latest numbers and come up with strategies to reduce crime. The most recent meeting was held Wednesday.
The aim is to use the SeaStat process to quickly tackle problems as they’re detected. The regular meetings help department staff assess if solutions are working, and develop other strategies if they’re not.
SeaStat also takes community views into account through regular meetings where the department can hear directly from residents if its efforts are working. The community feedback, and analysis of crime data, will be used to adjust the precinct community policing plans now under development.
“We’re definitely headed in the right direction,” Wagers said, “but there’s still a lot of work to do.”