Two years ago, the number of homicides hit a 10-year high in
Seattle, a city that prides itself on its sense of civility and its
belief that it can direct its destiny.
The city responded in several ways. It sent a team of police
officers, prosecutors, and physicians to schools to warn young
people about the dangers of guns; it ratcheted up a program to deal
with domestic violence; and it intensified efforts to recreate a
sense of community in city neighborhoods.
The result: Seattle's violent crime rate today is among the
lowest in the country.
Seattle isn't alone, of course. Violent crime in the United
States has been declining since the early 1990s. Last year, the
murder rate dropped 8 percent nationally, driven in part by the
downturn in juvenile crime for the first time in nearly a decade.
The trend has continued this year, with the number of homicides
falling in two-thirds of the nation's largest cities, according to
a Monitor survey.
Yet Seattle is a standout. Last year the number of homicides
here dropped by 40 percent. This year, they have plunged even
lower. Through June, police recorded just 12 homicides compared
with 27 during the same period in 1995.
As much as they'd like to, police here don't take full credit
for the news that has made life in the largest city in the Pacific
Northwest a little safer. They cite demographics (fewer people in
their mid-teens and early 20s, who tend to be more crime-prone) and
more people in prison than before. There are nearly three times as
many people in prison today as in 1980, according to the US Justice
But law enforcement here has a new attitude: that crime
prevention can curb violence. "I think you can prevent murder,"
says Lt. Emett Kelsie, the gang-squad commander of the Seattle
Police Department. "You can't prevent every murder, but you can
address that frame of mind, that propensity."
Relatively young and prosperous, Seattle differs in many ways
from its older peers to the east. It is a mostly white,
middle-class city with no discernible ghetto.
Its city leaders fret about managing growth rather than decline.
Its inhabitants are deeply concerned about the quality of their
lives. Crime has grown here, but it has never been the major
problem it is in old industrial cities such as Detroit, Chicago,
"We were able to start a lot further ahead with our community
policing than a lot of the more established cities," Lt. Kelsie
At the core of the anticrime efforts is a series of policies and
programs to make fast-growing Seattle, now up to 520,000 residents,
remain true to its small-town atmosphere. "We're more polite than
most. We return wallets when they're dropped. We're polite
drivers," says anticrime activist Kay Godefroy. "We're a small
town. I hope we stay that way."
As executive director of the nonprofit Seattle Neighborhood
Group, Ms. Godefroy has been working with police and communities
since 1988 to help reduce crime. …