It turns out Murder Inc. isn’t expanding in Seattle

handgunOn the May day after Ian Stawicki went crazy at Cafe Racer, killing five persons and then himself, I cautioned against concluding Seattle’s murder rate was skyrocketing and therefore making public policy on that basis. Stawicki’s carnage brought the year-to-date killing toll to 21, one more than the 20 killed in all of 2011.

But to me, an ex-police reporter still New To Seattle, the period of time–less than five months–was so short and a mass killer relatively so unusual that, statistically, little of validity could be deduced. This was especially so since Seattle’s violent crime rate, compared to other large cities, was pretty low to start with.

Of course, that didn’t stop the local clamor for action. “Growing gun violence commands concrete solutions,” thundered a headline over a Seattle Times editorial that, however, offered no concrete solutions. Mayor Mike McGinn and other politicians scambled.

Well, what do you know? Today’s Times has a story saying that with three days to go in the year, the total number of murders is 26–exactly the average of the past 10 years. And since Seattle’s population has gone up 8% over that period, that means the murder rate actually has gone down by a significant margin.

Noting that I had made a similar not-long-enough argument earlier in the year, someone going by the handle of Scuba Frog posted this note a few days before the Cafe Racer killings:

2012 has been a pretty bloody year to date.   Random shootings and gang violence are increasing steadily.  What have you to say now Mr. Barrett?  Do you still have a “lack of concern”?  Respectfully, 4 years as a journalist makes you a novice – if that.  Put in 20 more years, and go to some particularly bloody locales on this good earth – and report back.

Scuba Frog–whose identity remains unknown to me–was a little off in his/her biographical summary of me. I have 40-plus years of experience as a journalist, not four. That included a spell in the 1980s in Beirut, which surely qualified at the time as one of the “particularly bloody locales on this good earth.” I spent more than a decade living in New Mexico at a time when it had the highest crime rate of any state. And for what it’s worth, I have a decent background in mathematics and statistics.

It will be interesting to see if anyone around Seattle who decried the perceived increased violence will voice second thoughts now. As for Scuba Frog, please consider this my “report back.”

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