SEATTLE — King County, Washington state’s most populous county, continues to see a striking increase in gun violence, with fatal shootings in the first nine months of the year already exceeding 2020’s year-end totals.
The data comes from a report released Tuesday by the King County Prosecutor’s Office.
"This report allows us to confirm what we feel in our gut," said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterburg.
The total number of shots fired incidents across the county so far this year is 1,036, with 73 people dying from gunshot wounds. These numbers do not include suicides, confirmed self-inflicted shootings or officer-involved shootings.
Compared to 2020, which also saw a significant jump in gun violence incidents despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 has seen 14 more deadly shooting victims and 86 more non-fatal shooting victims through September.
Roughly 80% of these shootings come from eight police departments, including Seattle, Auburn, Federal Way, Kent, Des Moines, Renton and Tukwila, along with the King County Sheriff’s Office.
According to the report, roughly 40% of the total shots fired incidents and about 40% of shooting victims were in Seattle.
Compared to the four-year average, the number of shootings in 2021 so far is up nearly 50%, and the number of shooting victims is up 76%.
The report also breaks down shooting victims by race and age, showing the majority of shooting victims are Black King County residents despite this demographic being a relatively small proportion of the county’s overall population.
When broken down by age, the report found the majority of victims are 18-24 years old.
"It is not a burden that is equally shared by everyone in our country," Satterburg said.
Meanwhile, the steep rise in gun violence has run parallel to substantial staffing shortages at police agencies like the Seattle Police Department (SPD) amid calls to defund law enforcement and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
On Wednesday, SPD activated its stage 3 emergency backup response plan, expecting the Oct. 18 COVID-19 vaccine mandate deadline to exacerbate its already strained staffing demands.
This means someone calling 911 to report a shooting could be met with any on-duty sworn employee like a training officer, a teaching officer or even a detective.
Satterburg said the latter situation could hurt prosecutions as they will be unable to investigate crimes and send their findings to his office.
However, Satterburg said Wednesday that he believes the staffing crisis in police departments is not among the top reasons gun violence is increasing, adding "it is not a burden that is equally shared by everyone in our country."
Sean Goode with the Choose 180 Program said one of the main reasons for the increase in gun violence over the last year was the deterioration of mental health support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, nonprofits with the Regional Peacekeepers Collective called on King County to invest at least $10 million to combat gun violence, doubling the county’s already announced investment of $5 million over the next two years.
Seattle has also invested $2 million in the Regional Peacekeepers Collective.
King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said that, in addition to funding these community programs, the county needs progressive tax options instead of things like sales taxes or property taxes that he said can hurt the communities programs are meant to help.
Goode said that the county will not be able to police or prosecute its way out of the gun violence epidemic, calling arrests and prosecutions pauses that present the community with opportunities to intervene in the individual's situation.
"They are simply a pause. They are an opportunity for us as a collective community to figure out what our priorities are to begin to change the very material conditions that contribute to the types of violence we are seeing in our community today," Goode said.
The Regional Peacekeepers Collective and Goode are calling on leaders to look at the gun violence crisis as a public health crisis similar to the COVID-19 pandemic.