Seattle. (Getty Images)
Think Seattle has a homelessness and prolific offender problem? Well, you’re just delusional. All is well in Seattle, look at the data! So implies Danny Westneat in his latest column for the Times.
After bellyaching about national coverage of Seattle’s problems, Westneat declares the problem for Seattle is really nothing more than a public relations one. He goes on to repeat claims made by some in and out of the community, then dismissed them with data. But he hedges his data presentation with unanswered follow-up questions to give himself an out when called out for his head-in-the-sand hot takes. I thought I’d answer some.
First, Westneat points out that Seattle crime was down across the board in 2019.
The truth is that while all that caterwauling was happening around the Internet, here on the streets crime actually went down, across the board, in 2019. Robbery was down 9 percent from a year ago, burglary was off 6 percent. Property crime in total was down 6 percent – with the raw number of property crimes (mostly thefts) the lowest recorded since 2013.
Okay. Great! He doesn’t have a reason to believe these numbers are an accurate reflection of what we’re experiencing, so he gives himself some wiggle room: “Maybe people are so fed up they aren’t reporting all the property crimes?”
That’s it. No exploration beyond an unanswered question he poses so he can escape a valid criticism he knows he’ll get. It’s a pretty good tactic. Present data to imply your main point — Seattle is fine, folks — but present one probable theory behind the data, choose not to explore it because it likely disproves your position, then in the face of criticism, claim that you did bring up that point. It’s a bad faith attempt.
The answer to his question: Yes, people aren’t reporting all property crimes. They are, indeed, fed up. Just talk to them, Danny. And don’t select people who already hold your position. There are plenty of Progressive activists who refuse to admit we have a homeless prolific offender problem because they don’t want to forward a narrative they foolishly believe hurts the homeless.
But if you talk to regular Seattleites who live in Lake City and Magnolia or Northgate and Capitol Hill, they will tell you they don’t bother to report stolen property or car break-ins because they know the Seattle Police Department isn’t going to handle it. And they’re right: SPD won’t. Not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t have enough staff to properly handle these low-level thefts.
And because we’ve taught Seattleites that these instances aren’t a high priority (or even a low priority), they’re not reported. Of course, it should still be reported so the data is more accurate and so that we don’t get bad faith Westneat columns.
I asked [SPD Sgt. Sean] Whitcomb about the theory that police may not be enforcing certain laws as much as they used to, which could lead to fewer official crime reports. He released data showing that the number of calls for help from the public was also down in 2019, by 3 percent, even as Seattle’s population grew by about 17,000 people. Calls about theft, historically the city’s biggest nuisance crime, were down 20 percent.
He asked a question of SPD but didn’t provide an answer, just more data about calls to 911, which doesn’t actually get to the heart of the issue. This, again, is a trick to imply a reality that doesn’t exist.
It’s true people aren’t calling 911 as much for reasons I previously explained. But it’s also true that police officers are not enforcing laws as much as they used to. Community policing, in Seattle, means the mayor and council demand SPD not arrest people for breaking laws because they view the criminal justice system as racist.
Beyond that, cops will tell you over and over and over again that they’re either explicitly or implicitly told not to proactively police. It’s why homeless, prolific offenders remain on the streets committing crimes. They’re not even being hassled for using parks and sidewalks as toilets or loitering outside of businesses. Cops aren’t allowed to do their jobs and this particular problem gets worse.
Westneat, rejecting people’s parroting of the “Seattle Is Dying” narrative, then offers another bad faith argument: “How come nobody ever interviews the 138,640 people who have moved into Seattle since 2010?”
One, it appears he hasn’t interviewed them. He should talk to more people. But two, the implication is that people wouldn’t move here if things were so bad. There’s a lot wrong with this argument.
The problems that have been the focus of the coverage — which isn’t, as Westneat pretends, focused on a Mad Max style of utter lawlessness by everyone in town — is prolific homeless offenders, and a large portion of homeless who refuse to accept help or play by any rules. This issue started to percolate in the minds of residents about five years. Since then, it’s gotten worse. And it’s been nearly the only type of crime the media has been focused on.
To dismiss this very clear and obvious narrative from people like me, Westneat throws out the 2010 number at random, and his Progressive colleague Gene Balk laughably compared Seattle crime rates to the 80s to show things are so much better now. Only, literally no one is saying it used to be better in the 80s.
And why are so many people moving here? Amazon is paying them a lot of money. Shocking revelation, I know.
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