Concerned residents gathered last Thursday to discuss with local law enforcement the needs of a community that’s been stricken by a rash of recent shootings in the Central District and nearby area.
The East Precinct Advisory Council hosted a community safety meeting at Seattle University’s Chardin Hall, which, by grim coincidence, took place some 90 minutes after Seattle Police responded to the area’s latest shooting occurrence — a shots-fired report at 22nd Avenue and Jackson Street on Sept. 27.
SPD officers were on hand at the EastPAC meeting to provide updates regarding the recent spike in gun violence.
“We want people to know that we just want things to calm down,” Assistant Chief Eric Greening told the Madison Park Times.
Sgt. Andy Zwaschka told attendees that the preliminary report for Thursday’s shooting was that gunfire had been exchanged by two different groups near the AutoZone parking lot where officers responded. No injuries were reported, though there was property damage, including cars struck by gunfire. A car was left at the scene with shell casings in and outside the vehicle, and the shooting was still under investigation.
EastPAC chair Stephanie Tschida began the meeting with a moment of silence for Marshall Bennett, the victim of a Sept. 14 shooting at 25th Avenue and East Yesler Way, as well as for community advocate Angela Gilliam, who recently passed away.
One of Tschida’s goals for last Thursday’s meeting was to discuss preventive measures the community can take regarding gun and youth violence. Tschida noted that Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s biennium budget proposal recommends $7 million go toward anti-youth violence efforts.
Capt. Bryan Grenon of the East Precinct counted 12 different shootings taking place in the Central District between August and September, which he said the police department is “hyper-focused” on addressing. He said SPD is working with partner agencies, including King County, U.S. Marshals and ATF, in identifying the individuals involved in local shootings.
He noted that SPD redoubled its efforts, with a “robust” police presence in the areas where there has been gun activity, which has included sending in K-9 and SWAT teams.
“The challenge that we face is that this isn’t a Central District problem. This isn’t a south end problem. This is a King County, in total, challenge,” Grenon said, adding there have been conflicts between various groups that cross city boundaries, with similar shooting events occurring in Federal Way, Kent and Tukwila.
Adrian Daye, network coordinator for Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative with Therapeutic Health Services, works with area youth between the ages of 12-17. Daye’s work focuses on youth who are at highest risk of engaging in or becoming victims of violence.
Her work aims to provide opportunities for young people based on their needs, although Daye adds her work is “a suggestive measure,” and that buy-in from young people is needed for it to be successful. She said a big part of her work is making sure youth have something to do between the hours after school and before dinner.
“My motto in the Central District, because a lot of the kids that we deal with are kicked out and nobody wants to deal with, I tell them they’re ‘kicked-in’ here,” she said.
Daye said one aspect she believes is often overlooked is that the youth she serves do not have the right to make their own decisions until they reach a certain age, and that they are governed by adults. It’s one of the obstacles that she hopes to help youth overcome through her work — being empowered and thriving.
Daye later commented that some people may commit crimes, not unlike how a young person acts out in class, because they don’t understand the work and they’re too embarrassed to ask for help. Similarly, some criminal offenders don’t have the skills to get the things that they need. She noted the importance of restorative systems, particularly for those re-entering society.
Jeron Gates, planning manager with the Seattle Human Services department, spoke briefly about the efforts taking place to make the most out of the existing violence prevention efforts. Gates said the department is kicking off a co-design process and looking for community engagement in building strategies and activities to better serve those most vulnerable.
Grenon acknowledged these community efforts as something the police department supports, and as an effective way of curbing local shootings and youth violence.
“We’re not gonna police our way out of this problem. We’re gonna go after the source, we’re gonna arrest these people that are committing the crimes,” Grenon said. “But for us to truly end this cycle of violence in the long term is really [through] wrap-around services. To really empower the youth, the 10-year-olds, the 12-year-olds, the 14- and 15-year-olds that are vulnerable, and be able to provide them those opportunities, the education, the services, the life skills, so that we can break that cycle. We truly support that.”
King County deputy prosecutor Mark Larson with Criminal Division, who was in attendance and prompted to speak, said the county is collaborating with “seven agencies that represent about 90 percent of the firearm violence in our community” along the I-5 corridor, gathering and analyzing data to inform the strategies for law enforcement to take. He said a crucial part of their work is using social networking analysis, which helps law enforcement officials determine who’s involved in these shootings, who’s peripheral and who’s at risk to violent events. He added that the county is partnering with community groups in new ways to determine what preventative measures they can take.
“All of that data now is being collected and analyzed in really meaningful ways, and giving us new opportunities to start looking and try to see where can we intervene in ways that might prevent violence,” Larson said.
When asked to speak to the motivation of the shootings, Larson admitted he didn’t know, but added he estimates 20 percent of the shootings were “identifiably connected to a gang” and later said there were “a thousand reasons,” sometimes trivial by nature, why people engage in shootings.
“If we just chase gangs, 80 percent of the violence that we’re looking at and the shots fired around our community, we’re gonna miss it,” he said.
One audience member, who works at 23rd Avenue and Yesler, said he was in the area when three of the shootings occurred nearby. He asked the officers on the panel what he could tell his coworkers to allay their fears when it comes to going outside amid the recent spike in shootings.
“The best way we can answer this is that we absolutely share your concerns,” Grenon said. “Any incident is a very sensitive issue to us, and that’s why we’ve significantly increased the number of officers we have working in the area.”
Grenon said officers are working diligently on addressing the recent shootings. He noted that while there was a spike in the last two months, historically speaking, shootings were down.
“We’re in that window where since 2015 we’ve actually decreased in the number of shootings, and then, the precinct as a whole, we’re down 11 percent in overall crime,” Grenon said. “But it’s the perception that you’re having, the perception of fear, of safety, and that’s something we take wholeheartedly. We’re working diligently on it and we’re doing our best on it.”