Seattle homicides rose precipitously in 2020 as liberal leaders demanded police be defunded

'It's clear that law enforcement is not always the appropriate avenue to deal with these issues,' the mayor said in 2020

This is the fifth part of a Fox News Digital series about "defund the police" politicians and crime in the areas they represent.

Seattle, Washington, became a focal point of the defund the police movement in 2020, as riots and protests raged in the city that summer after the murder of George Floyd. Following widespread support from liberal leaders and activists to defund, data show homicides rose precipitously in the city.

"It's clear that law enforcement is not always the appropriate avenue to deal with these issues," then-Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said on July 13, 2020. "Today, the chief and I are announcing an initial $76 million in reductions to the 2021 budget."

Her announcement came as the city’s council members pushed for the police department to be cut by a whopping 50% - a proposal Durkan slammed. The police budget for 2021 was ultimately set to $363 million, compared to 2020’s $401.8 million budget. 

As Durkan announced the partial defunding in July, protests and riots continued raging in her city, causing damage to buildings, cars seen lit on fire, the city enforcing curfews, and police making dozens of arrests. The ire of protesters was also directed at Durkan, who demanded she resign over the police department’s handling of the protests, arguing the city violated the constitutional rights of demonstrators with heavy-handed tactics. 

SEATTLE STRUGGLES WITH POLICE SHORTAGE AFTER 'DEFUND' MOVEMENT AS 100 OFFICERS LEAVE FORCE

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, right, speaks, Monday during a news conference at City Hall in Seattle. Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best, looking on at left, were critical of a plan backed by several city council members that seeks to cut the police department's budget by 50 percent. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, right, speaks, Monday during a news conference at City Hall in Seattle. Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best, looking on at left, were critical of a plan backed by several city council members that seeks to cut the police department's budget by 50 percent. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The protesters calling for Durkan’s resignation even briefly occupied Seattle’s City Hall in June, before heading to an autonomous zone in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. The area, known as "CHOP" or "CHAZ," became a national focal point of that summer, as fatal shootings unfolded, including the killing of a 16-year-old boy. 

But as rioters occupied the city’s east police precinct, Durkan declared that Seattle was seeing a "summer of love." The mayor soon walked that comment back as violent crimes in the area mounted. 

As 2020 drew to a close, Seattle data showed a precipitous rise in homicides. 

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In 2019, Seattle recorded 31 homicides. That number skyrocketed by 61% the following year to 50 homicides, the highest number recorded in 26 years. 

Seattle’s data on homicides follows a national trend from 2020. FBI data show murders increased by nearly 30% in 2020, marking the largest single-year increase in killings since the agency began tracking the crimes. 

Experts who have spoken to Fox News Digital pointed to the defund movement, the pandemic and its lockdowns upsetting daily life in unprecedented ways, and the Ferguson effect for the rise in crimes in 2020.

"Certainly, the protests and riots mid-2020 after the death of George Floyd followed a pattern of spiking violence that we've seen following past viral police incidents, such as the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray. This pattern has been termed the ‘Ferguson Effect’: police pull back while violent crime spikes precipitously," Hannah Meyers, director of the policing and public safety initiative at the Manhattan Institute, told Fox News Digital earlier this year of the national murder increases in 2020. 

Homicides ticked down to 42 in 2021, and the city has logged at least 27 homicides this year, according to Seattle Police data. 

Shootings have meanwhile skyrocketed this year. Seattle Police data analyzed by Fox News Digital shows there have been 446 reported shootings this year, as of July 31. The shootings marked a 42% increase compared to last year during the same time period, when 315 shootings were reported. 

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As crime has increased, the police department in Seattle has faced steep staffing shortages - a problem that has affected nearly all law enforcement agencies in King County, where Seattle is located. 

The Space Needle and Mount Rainier are seen on the skyline of Seattle, Washington, U.S. February 11, 2017. (REUTERS/Chris Helgren)

The Space Needle and Mount Rainier are seen on the skyline of Seattle, Washington, U.S. February 11, 2017. (REUTERS/Chris Helgren) (REUTERS/Chris Helgren)

"Pretty clearly, the defund, disarm and disparage movement by Seattle's liberal political leaders has utterly gutted our criminal justice infrastructure. And we are seeing the results of those failed policies out on the streets in the form of a 50-year-high crime," King County Councilman Reagan Dunn told Fox News Digital. 

Seattle PD has lost more than 400 members over the last two and half years, including the city’s police chief in August of 2020 who said she felt "destined to fail" after police cuts and amid continued talks to defund the department even more. 

The King County Sheriff’s Office had more than 100 vacant deputy positions as of last month. And at the King County jail, the largest adult detention center in the county and located in the city, staffing shortages played out on a national stage in July when it shut down booking services for eight hours overnight due to staffing shortages. 

The staffing issues have even extended to the Seattle Fire Department, which has been understaffed 69% of the time this year alone and spending more than $11 million to fund overtime costs to cover the gaps, KTTH radio host Jason Rantz reported in July. 

In 2021, Durkan pulled out of the mayoral race after she had already filed her re-election paperwork in 2020, before the pandemic and calls to defund the police rocked the nation. She had met calls for her resignation not only from protesters and rioters, but also by Democratic groups in the city and a councilmember who accused her of "abuse of power," arguing protesters were faced with brutality from officers. 

"This was a hard year …  and it was a hard year on every level, including the civil rights uprisings, and the racial reckoning and how we do policing. And I think all us have learned a number of lessons from this year," Durkan said when announcing she would not run.

In November of last year, voters issued a resounding defeat to liberal, pro-defund the police candidates. Candidates for mayor, city council and city attorney, who supported defunding the Seattle Police Department were defeated by more centrist candidates. 

Former City Council president Bruce Harrell defeated a mayoral opponent who sought to further gut the police department, and became the city’s mayor. 

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He has since called for the hiring of 500 police officers for the city over the next five years, with the hopes the department will employ 1,450 trained officers by 2027. 

Harrell's office did not immediately respond to request for comment on initiatives to boost the police force or the 2020 defund movement. Fox News Digital attempted to reach Durkan as well as a former staffer for comment, but did not immediately receive a reply.