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Youth violence decreasing in Seattle, new report says

Dave Knapik
According to a recent report, efforts in the city of Seattle to deescalate youth retributions after violent encounters has helped bring down the number of violent incidents.

Young people in Seattle are committing fewer violent crimes than they did a couple of years ago – especially in areas that, historically, have had the most juvenile offenses, according to a new city report.

The drop could be the result of a citywide effort to combat the problem.

A few years ago, when major crimes in Seattle dipped to the lowest they’d been in four decades, the rate of youth violence did just the opposite. The persistent problem escalated with a series of homicides committed by young people, some involving gangs. City leaders formed the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative as a solution. 

“Youth violence was really seen as something that current strategies were not successful in impacting and that something new needed to be done,” said Mariko Lockhart, director of the initiative.

The effort is in its third year and it appears to be working. According to its first “progress report,” juvenile arrests for violent offenses have plunged by more than 15 percent since 2008.

'Street outreach'

The initiative concentrates on young people who live in southeast, southwest and central Seattle and gives $4 million a year to programs that provide mentors, paid internships and caseworkers. Lockhart says one of the most creative approaches is a “street outreach team” that includes adults who are former criminals and gang members, so they relate to what sets kids off.   

“Whenever there is a shooting, or a violent incident that involves youth, some members of the team will deploy and their job is to deescalate tension to prevent retaliation. Because a lot of youth violence that occurs is really the result of retaliation,” she said.

While Lockhart says she’s encouraged that youth violence is trending downward, she says it’s too early to be certain it’s all because of the initiative. One way she plans to find out is by comparing its targeted area to Tacoma, a city she says has similar demographics, but not a similar effort.

Charla joined us in January, 2010 and is excited to be back in Seattle after several years in Washington, DC, where she was a director and producer for NPR. Charla has reported from three continents and several outlets including Marketplace, San Francisco Chronicle and NPR. She has a master of journalism from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in architecture from University of Washington.