Josh Crawford, Washington murder rates, murder rates, Washington rates

Why Seattle’s Murder Rate Has Surged Against National Decline


Key Points

  • A new report reveals Seattle’s murder rate defied national trends with a 13% increase in homicides in 2022. 
  • Washington has veered toward the wrong side of the “crime divide” as violent and property crime have worsened in the wake of recent policy decisions.
  • Enacting best practices for crime reduction will empower cities like Seattle to reverse the violence.

Homicides were likely down nationwide—about 4% according to one report—in 2022. But declining national numbers only tell part of the story. Families and individuals don’t live in “the nation.” They live in specific communities that are much smaller. Unfortunately, the homicide declines experienced in the aggregate did not translate evenly across these communities.

Seattle’s Murder Rate Goes Opposite the National Decline 

2022 began what we have referred to as “the great crime divide” in which some cities saw dramatic decreases in homicide—40% in Richmond, VA, and 11% in Austin, TX, for example—while other cities continued to see increases in homicides. One of those cities, Seattle, WA, saw a 13% increase in homicides in 2022 compared to 2021.

A recently released annual crime report from the Washington Association of Sheriffs further details this increase and shows a 15% rise in homicides statewide in Washington, once again setting a record for murders. Equally troubling, aggravated assaults, robberies, and car thefts were also up statewide. Car thefts are typically a good proxy for property crime because they have such high reporting rates relative to other property offenses.

Seattle’s Crime Problem Is a Policy Choice

Once again, it’s clear that rising crime is a policy choice. Beginning in 2020, the Seattle City Council voted two years in a row to cut police funding and are now down more than 350 police officers due to resignations and early retirements. Seattle has also become one of the national standard-bearers for “revolving door” justice. The Seattle Times used a 2022 arrest to highlight the problem.

Cuong Cao, was, as of Friday, still loose, described now by a federal justice spokesperson as a “fugitive.” There’s no reason for him to be a fugitive though, because he was arrested at 12th and Jackson last month, after police say they watched him selling fentanyl pills on the sidewalk and then crouching over a woman who was overdosing.

When Cao was booked, he was carrying heroin, meth and 88 “blues” — street slang for fentanyl pills — along with $800 in cash and a Canik 9-mm pistol. He’s got a slew of felony convictions for burglary, car theft and drug dealing, and he’s had 39 arrest warrants going back 20 years because of a propensity to not show up in court.

 Yet he was out of jail 45 hours later on just $2,500 bail, down from the $75,000 requested by prosecutors.

State policymakers have also played a role in exacerbating Washington’s crime problem. In 2021 they passed into law two “police reform” bills (here and here) that limited pursuits, use of force, and other tactics in a way that likely discouraged proactive policing. But the bad ideas roll on. Legislators have filed, but not yet passed bills that allow for early release for violent felons and reduce penalties for drive-by shootings. Passage of these measures would only make a bad situation worse, and further push Washington state down the path to more crime and more disorder. 


The tragic story of Christian Gwynn who was fatally shot as a result of violence is a wake-up call to the need for change in policies that will reduce urban violence.

The tragic story of Christian Gwynn who was fatally shot as a result of violence is a wake-up call to the need for change in policies that will reduce urban violence.

Reducing Crime is Essential to Building Vibrant Communities

 As I wrote in this op-ed for Newsweek, there’s a direct link between rising crime and the well-being of our communities: “When communities become less safe, they become less prosperous. Our poorest residents end up shouldering the burden.”

Whether it’s Seattle, Atlanta, or any other city struggling with increasing violence, getting serious about reducing crime is more than a policy decision. It’s an act of compassion, especially toward the most vulnerable in our communities.

While bad decisions have led to increased crime, enacting best practices at the local and state level not only reverse Washington’s current trajectory but can meaningfully reduce violent and serious property crime so that Washingtonians can lead safer, more fulfilled lives.

Related Reading

A Violent Start to the Year: Murders Are Already Soaring in These Six Major Cities

Murder Is Actually Going Down—Wherever They’re Paying Cops More and Targeting Gangs

How to Turn Back the Tide of Violent Crime

A Path That Could Reduce Atlanta’s Juvenile Crime

Community Benefits of a Strong Police Force

There’s Hope for Reducing Crime in Georgia


About The Author

Josh Crawford

Director of Criminal Justice Initiatives

Josh Crawford is a native of Massachusetts. He went to Penn State for his undergraduate degree and then finished law school in Boston. After a brief stint in Sacramento, California, working in the county district attorney’s office, Josh moved to Kentucky to help start the Pegasus Institute, a nonpartisan organization designed to promote opportunity. In addition to serving as executive director of the organization, Josh had a special focus on criminal justice policy.

“By focusing on public safety and order, we can restore hope and opportunity to rural communities.”

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