2012 has been an unsettling year for the residents of Seattle, Washington. The city has seen a sharp rise in the instances of violent crime, most disturbingly a marked rise in the number of murders in the city. While any instance of homicide is troubling, an all-too-common element of many of the murders that have taken place in Seattle in 2012 has been the lack of a clear motive.
The third Seattle murder in 2012 was the shooting death of Darek Darewski, a 49-year-old man who was gunned down by an unknown assailant in Capitol Hill on the night of January 17th. Police have footage of a white van stalking Darewski, followed by an unidentified figure who shoots Darewski once in the chest. First responders attempted to resuscitate the victim by he was already dead when they arrived on the scene.
To date, there is no known motive for the killing of Darek Darewski. Whereas the majority of the murders in Seattle this year, according to the office of the mayor, are related to the drug trade, there are many violent crimes in the city that are either unrelated to drugs or otherwise unclear if they have a connection to drugs.
Like many major cities, Seattle has had a long and difficult battle with drug-related crime. A decade ago, a crack epidemic accounted for as much as 52% of the felony arrests in King County, with another 24% being somehow related to other street drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. Today, Seattle police are proving to be more effective at tackling drug trafficking than they were circa 2000, as evidenced by two major drug busts in 2011 and 2012. The first was the seizure of a purported 20 pounds of crystal meth in October 2011. The second was an epic sting operation in April 2012 that led to the arrest of over 40 people across four Western Washington counties.
Much of the drug trade in Seattle is tied to Mexican cartels such as La Sinaloa. The small, local “cells” of these cartels tend to operate in “hot spot” neighborhoods, mostly in Seattle’s south side region. But violent crime, including gun-related crime, is not exclusive to any one part of the city. Shootings have taken place in 2012 everywhere from the Central District neighborhood to the University District and even one instance at Seattle Center during the Folklife Festival that left one man injured.
The SPD response to this uptick in violent crime is to institute “Violence Prevention Emphasis Patrols” on a per-precinct basis. VPEPs are teams of police who respond to all reports of violent crime in their precinct and attempt to curb violence by increasing the visible presence of police in the region. They also have instructions to perform check-ins with local businesses to get a more comprehensive picture of a given neighborhood’s state of peace. The VPEP teams are supposed to have a zero-tolerance policy for violent offenders. In addition, the public reporting process has been streamlined to direct all reports of actual or potential violent crime to the Incident Commander in charge of the precinct, especially when reported by the owner or staff of a nightlife business.
As comprehensive as the VPEP initiative is, it still can’t respond to the unexplained acts of violence that occur in Seattle outside of typical hot spots. The most rattling incident took place on May 30th when a man identified as Ian Stawicki walked into Cafe Racer in the Roosevelt district near the University of Washington and fatally shot four people, wounding others. Stawicki was chased from the premises and eventually found himself downtown where he shot and killed a fifth victim during a carjacking. The killer was eventually cornered by police in West Seattle where he shot himself in the head. After spending some time in critical condition at the Harborview Medical Center, Ian Stawicki died of his wounds, leaving the reason for his crimes unanswered.
The only clue to Stawicki’s motives is a history of mental illness, which did not stop him from acquiring two hand guns and a concealed carry permit. The Seattle Police Department has been working closely with the FBI and the ATF to crack down on the presence of illegal firearms in the city, but not all gun-related crimes are committed using illegal weapons.
The violent crime statistics in Seattle, like non-violent crimes such as burglary and car theft, have been reasonably steady over the past several years, mostly marked by periods of spiking crime that weigh the statistics in a particular period of months. In 2011 there were spikes in July and December that claimed the lives of a total of nine people, though the numbers for 2012 show more frequent spikes. The most important question about this uncharacteristically violent year is whether the unpredictable, essentially impossible-to-predict attacks of individuals like Ian Stawicki are isolated incidents or part of a larger trend.