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Life and violence in the Rainier Valley: 'It's complicated out here'

In Seattle's South Precinct, gang violence and drive-by shootings live cheek-to-cheek with grit, fierce community and a sense of hope.

Editor's Note: This is the first article in a two-part series.

Seattle Police officer David Ellithorpe was talking with an officer on K-9 duty in the parking lot of the Van Asselt Community Center. It was about an hour after sunset on a Monday in May. Both officers were on an overnight patrol shift. Ellithorpe was trying to remember the name of the young guy who owned the purple Crown Victoria, the one with the oversized chrome wheels that idled over his shoulder on South Frontenac Street. Some kids hung around the cars that were parked on the opposite side of the lot, while others played basketball on an adjacent blacktop court.

At 9:37 p.m, a call came through on the patrol car radio: Possible shots fired. In seconds, Ellithorpe and the K-9 officer were each behind the wheel of their vehicles. They sped out of the parking lot, lights flashing.

As Ellithorpe raced north in his patrol car, up Beacon Avenue South, the police dispatcher continued to relay information. There were reports that a gray Nissan was involved, that there was yelling along the lines of, "They're coming back." Less than two minutes later, Ellithorpe and at least three other officers had arrived at Beacon and South Graham Street.

It did not look like a crime scene, just an intersection. A woman was walking her dog. Cars waited for the stoplight to change. The officers walked along the curbs and sidewalks, looking for expended shells or any other evidence of gunfire. They found nothing.

More information continued to filter in over the patrol car radio as Ellithorpe drove back south on Beacon Avenue. At least three callers had reported four or five shots fired.

"It might be someone driving around shooting," Ellithorpe said. "It's not that out of the ordinary."

Ellithorpe works in the south precinct. When compared to the four other precincts in the city, the south precinct has not had the highest monthly crime rates during the last two years. During that time, overall monthly crime rates there have trailed far behind the west precinct, which encompasses neighborhoods including downtown and Pioneer Square. And the rates in the east precinct, which contains Capitol Hill and the Central District, typically edged out those in the south precinct in most months.

What the south precinct does have though, is more than its fair share of gun-related crime.

During the 24-month period beginning in January 2012, the average monthly rate of assaults and robberies involving guns, per 1,000 residents, in the precinct was about 1.6 times greater than the next closest rate, in the east precinct, and more than five times greater than the lowest rate, which was in the north precinct. During 18 of those 24 months, the south precinct had the highest rate of gun-related assaults and robberies.


During 18 months in 2012 and 2013, the rate of assaults and robberies involving guns was highest in the south precinct. The population figures used to calculate the rates come from SPD and are based on 2010 Census block estimates. Assault and robbery figures are from SPD's monthly crime data.

Seattle Police Department incident report records also show that at least 25 drive-by shootings — which do not necessarily involve injuries — have occurred in the city since Jan. 1, 2013. Of these, 19 took place in the south precinct.

The number of homicides in the precinct was comparatively high as well during 2012 and 2013. It's not immediately clear from published crime statistics and police reports how many of the killings involved guns. Of the 49 homicides recorded by the department in 2012 and 2013, the south precinct had the largest share, with 17. In other words, about 35 percent of the killings took place in the south precinct. The north precinct had the next highest number, with 13, but also has nearly three times as many residents than the south precinct. 


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jun 11, 6:27 a.m. Inappropriate

I saw two yoga moms with sports strollers fighting over a parking spot for their Prius in Wallingford last week.

Really ugly. Violence isn't just a south end problem.

Simon

Posted Wed, Jun 11, 9:09 a.m. Inappropriate

"I saw two yoga moms with sports strollers fighting over a parking spot for their Prius in Wallingford last week."

Seattle Police response...ticket them for daring to drive in Seattle.

Cameron

Posted Wed, Jun 11, 9:13 a.m. Inappropriate

And this is why some of us aren't opposed to more gentrification. If there was a way to reduce the property crime and violence without gentrifying the neighborhood then great, let's do that. But every dollar we spend in mitigating crime in that area is a dollar that we don't have for safe streets, schools, parks, low income housing, or libraries.

How do we reduce crime in that area and make it a place where all residents feel safe? What do we do that we haven't already tried (and failed) in the last 30 years?

talisker

Posted Sun, Jun 15, 11:11 a.m. Inappropriate

So, we should just export it to Renton and Kent?

Without addressing the problem of drugs and gangs, real advance and progress can't be made. The War on Drugs (prohibit, interdict and imprison) has been a complete failure. We need to separate the addicts (users and petty dealers) from the traffickers, the prostitutes from the pimps. If we deny the gangs their sources of income, they will wither away. We can do that through diversion for all non-violent drug-related crimes (by users, runners, petty dealers, etc.) into treatment, therapy, training, education, and other supports, including jobs programs in economically depressed areas. The message "crime doesn't pay" falls flat when for many it is the only thing that does pay.

Posted Fri, Jun 13, 1:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Appalling indifference, ignorance, misled perceptions.
Resentments, outrages, reckless abandon.
The future need not be that dim.
Nacho Libre, Iam a holeeman Iam.
The future may need a few less noisy engines,
trucks, ships, planes, commute car automatons.
Giant harvest machines, picking and shipping.
Anywayz, sorry about the outbursts read perhaps.

Wells

Posted Wed, Jun 18, 8:06 a.m. Inappropriate

The road to hell is paved with good intentions is an old saying. And, surprise, the area described here contains some of the most diversity and multiculturalism in this area. Wasn't maximizing this the advertised as the one and only path to utopia?

And most of the gang activity there involves immigrant gangs. Immigration just provides peaceful tax-paying citizens who add to our diversity doesn't it? Ohh, but there are extensive education, incarceration, welfare, medical, housing, etc. costs! Let alone the congestion costs/impacts created by this state inviting 100s of thousands in and the country absorbing around a 100 million just in the last century.

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