Even as headline writers at The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer were preparing their front page stories regarding a weekend of gang violence, Seattle's Gang Unit Commander Ron Wilson was wearing a suit and sitting at a very civil, long-scheduled discussion on youth gangs and violence at the November meeting of the City Neighborhood Council.
A few chairs away Tim Burgess, City Council Chair of Public Safety, Human Services, and Education Committee, stood while highlighting Council's approval, that very day, of the 2009-2010 City of Seattle budget. Within the windowless walls of the West Precinct meeting room the message seemed mixed as ever. According to Seattle Police Department data, violent crimes are at their lowest levels in Seattle since the 1960s. Yet Wednesday's Seattle Times' front page on-line read: Word on the street: Seattle violence is rising. So what gives?
Over the weekend three people died and another eight were wounded in five different shootings, or "assault with weapon" as the 9-1-1 Live Dispatch reads all too often. Was there a mass murder in the 1960's that skewed the numbers? Or are we supposed to think that more violent crimes get reported in the media these days? Wilson, whose Gang Unit is part of the Violent Crimes Division stated, "as violent crime has reduced in Seattle, violent crimes among youth have stayed flat." It's hard to imagine 11 victims in one weekend as flat. Wilson also says there have been always been gangs, teenagers and fights, "but now the fights have guns."
Councilmember Burgess announced that City Council had approved funding for the Mayor's Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. Gang Unit Commander Wilson said he was encouraged by the mandate to proceed with a new three-pronged approach of prevention, intervention, and enforcement. He said the new mandate will also encourage cross-communication between departments such Human Services, Parks, and the Department. (Just getting around to this now?) "I hope to see some changes in the next six months."