More homicides are going unsolved as Seattle hangs in a staffing crisis

If you walk by Chief Sealth International High School in West Seattle, it’s hard to miss the memorial for Ka’Don Brown, on a tree near the school’s sign. 

It’s where Brown was found shot to death almost six months ago. It’s been six long and emotional months for his mother, Maxine Brooks. 

"This pain really hurts… It aches," she told us. "My head hurts and sometimes I can't function because I need to know what happened to my son. I know someone out there knows and I'm praying to god I get justice for my son."

And six months of waiting, but because Brown was killed in Seattle, Brooks will likely be left waiting even longer.

People are getting away with murder in Washington and with no justice and closure, it’s leaving families stuck in a cycle of grief.

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"It’s been hard for me to just sit here and wonder what’s going on with this case," said Brooks, "I want answers."
Using police department data reported to the FBI, we’re tracking a growing number of homicides. Of those growing cases, we’ve found fewer cases are being solved-- or "cleared."

FOX 13 dug into the numbers.

The city of Kent is already reporting a violent and deadly 2023. In the summer, they announced they’d already surpassed the number of murders they saw last year. In 2019 the city of Kent investigated four homicides. Of those, just one was solved, or "cleared" in police terms. In 2020 out of eight homicides reported, three were cleared, and in 2021 out of the 12 homicides investigated by Kent city police, just six-- 50% were cleared. Those are the most recent numbers from the FBI.

South to Tacoma, a similar trend. In 2019 the city investigated 17 homicides and 11 were cleared. 

In 2020 Tacoma police investigated 28 homicides and 15 were cleared. 

In 2021, 30 homicides were investigated and 16 were cleared.

In Seattle before the pandemic, a little more than half of all homicide cases were cleared. But in the latest data from 2021, the clearance rate dropped to just 24%. That means if you’re killed in Seattle, the suspect has a 75% chance of getting away with murder.  

"We’ve seen a significant upward trend in homicides, particularly the last two years in the state of Washington," explained Steven Strachan, the Executive Director for Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. "It’s doubly concerning because the rest of the nation has begun to level off a little bit, we’re still seeing that number increasing at an alarming rate."

Strachan says homicide clearance rates are down nationwide, but the statistic is a little more pronounced in Washington. 

Something every other parent considers their worst nightmare became a reality for Brooks, when she had to identify her son’s body.

"To walk into that morgue and see my son lay on the table, that was the worst damn day of my life," she said.

"This is a horrible year for homicides," Seattle Police Deputy Chief Eric Barden told FOX 13 in an exclusive interview. "We’ve not been able to slow the homicide rate as we had hoped to do." 

Right now Seattle is sitting at 64 homicides for 2023, or 65 if you count an unborn baby killed along with her mother at 4th and Lenora in June. It surpasses the total number of people who died by homicide in the city last year, and could beat out a record setting 69 homicides in 1994.


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SPD is also down 344 officers. Deputy Barden called it a "staffing crisis," painting a picture of an agency stretched thin, carrying higher case loads, as more people are killed in the street.

"You eventually can’t do more with less. You eventually do less with less and that’s unfortunately where we’re at right now," he said, noting the department had not cut down on the number of homicide detectives, but with the growing rate he explained those departments have a heavier case load so when another person is killed, and they haven’t been able to tie up loose ends on their last homicide investigation, their time is now split.

"We are doing the best job that we can with the staffing that we have," said Barden.

Strachan with WASPC says staffing is directly related to the homicide clearance rate. Not only with the number of law enforcement officers working to clear cases, but the number of officers on the streets to prevent them in the first place. When departments lose veteran officers with years of experience, he says it can also affect how crimes are investigated.

"The reality is if you don’t have enough people coming to the initial scene when it just occurred it’s harder to contain evidence, to get witnesses," he said, explaining that with low staff, policing turns from proactive to reactive.

Deputy Barden says SPD is committed to clearing all the homicides on their books, and it’s Chief Adrian Diaz’s top priority, pointing to the recently formed Community Violence Task Force to help cut down on crime. The department says they’re also always working to recruit more officers.