King County Councilmember presents public safety issues facing the region

Reagan Dunn spoke to the Renton City Council about substance abuse and crime trends in the county.

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn presented to the Renton City Council on March 4 to give the council and the community some updates on public safety trends and regional efforts in the county.

Dunn began by citing community polling in that region that showed during the pandemic that 40 percent of adult reported “adverse” mental or behavioral health conditions and 13 percent reporting “increased drug and alcohol addiction to with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.”

Dunn reported a “significant” increase in overdose deaths in King County in recent years, increasing by 209 percent from 2019 to 2023. He cited data showing 424 overdose deaths in 2019, increasing to 509 reported overdose deaths in 2020, 708 in 2021, 1,001 in 2022 and up to 1,311 in 2023.

He said 2023 was a record year for overdose deaths in King County, with nearly four people dying a day from overdose deaths in King County according to recent data, with the broad majority of those deaths being fentanyl related. In 2023, 1,079 of the 1,311 overdose deaths in King County were determined to be fentanyl related.

In July of 2022, Public Health - Seattle & King County declared fentanyl as a “public health crisis.” Data that Dunn cited shows an 880 percent increase in fentanyl deaths in King County since 2019.

Dunn said that this increase is being seen among every demographic group, as it “does not discriminate.”

On March 4, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced plans to increase both out-patient and in-patient treatment facilities as well as triage teams that will attempt to guide more people into substance abuse recovery.

During his presentation to the Renton City Council, Dunn said that the pandemic had pandemic “washed in on us like a tidal wave,” having many adverse effects on the public safety systems.

“As that wave receded out, we saw the destruction of what had happened across the board and including government, and one of them was our court and prosecution systems that had to put many of those trials on hold,” Dunn told the city council. “We have a huge backlog in significant cases murder and homicide [that] were really unprecedented.”

Data from the county indicates that pending felonies have risen from an average of 3,172 in February of 2019, to 4,383 in January of 2024. Major offenses such as homicide, rape, robbery and assault have also risen from 1,984 to 3,003 between January 2019 and January 2024.

Dunn said the county is now trying to turn that backlog around with investments from the County Council, grants, and a lot of work from the superior court judges.

He said the county is now seeing “the first indications that just maybe we are starting to bring that number back.”

However, Dunn says the county “still has a long ways to go.”

Data from the county indicates that homicides and murders have increased 73 percent from 2019, with 91 in 2019 to 157 in 2023. The number of reported shootings has doubled from 2019, with firearm homicide victims increasing from 49 in 2019 to 107 in 2023.

According to Dunn, recent county investment is law enforcement include a $1.7 million investment in a Gun Violence Special Emphasis team to try and prevent firearm violence in high-risk communities, $700,000 to KCSO Community Programs and Services division to maintain and develop relationships with community programs and to receive community input, as well as funding for 14 new full-time employees at the Sheriff’s Office.

Dunn pointed out that the King County Sheriff’s office is having problems hiring law enforcement officers, with a reported 89 current occupational vacancies, down from the recent peak at 114 vacancies.

Courtesy of Public Health - Seattle & King County
King County overdose death data

Courtesy of Public Health - Seattle & King County King County overdose death data