Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent Police

Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent Police

Kent homicides up to 17 so far this year; city had 9 in all of 2022

Mayor, police chief call the total ‘Pretty startling’

The city of Kent has had 17 homicides so far in 2023 after nine in all of 2022, according to the latest crime report by Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla.

“Pretty startling,” Mayor Dana Ralph said after Padilla presented the numbers during his Public Safety Report July 18 to the City Council.

Kent had 14 homicides in 2021, eight in 2020, four in 2019 and seven in 2018.

Two of the incidents this year were double killings. A man and a woman were fatally shot Jan. 31 at the Kent Valley Motel. A man and a woman also were fatally shot June 29 at the BLVD Apartments on the West Hill.

Two of the homicides involved Kent Police officers. Officers fatally shot a man April 18 on the East Hill after he allegedly came after them with a circular saw.

Padilla said the death of a Renton man April 3 after a fight with store security at Home Depot also is classified as a homicide as officers took the man into custody and he died two days later.

“We provided aid and the person died so it’s treated like an in custody death, but we were there just to provide medical aid,” Padilla said during his report.

The death of a 4-month-old baby has been labeled as a homicide, although it was not a violent death, Padilla said.

“It’s a child neglect case we are investigating,” he said.

Padilla said arrests have been made in nine of the 13 homicide cases.

“We have strong leads in the remaining incidents, including most recent,” the chief said.

Jeffery Ray Winn, 43, of Seattle, died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen in the most recent homicide July 15 at a Kent apartment complex.

Padilla said the average age of the murder suspects is 32, with the oldest 46 and the youngest 15. He said the average age of the victims is 34, with 52 the oldest and the 4-month-old baby the youngest.

Why so many killings?

So what’s driving the large number of homicides so far this year?

Padilla said drugs are connected to seven of the cases, the dealing and use of drugs and disputes over the drugs. Three were related to robberies, with the suspect trying to get money. Three were domestic violence incidents.

“Two have gang ties for sure, and we suspect others might have gang ties,” Padilla said.

The chief said weekend events seem to be connected with the incidents in Kent and incidents in nearby cities.

“There’s a lot of related crossover retaliation and payback stuff,” he said.

Padilla added that several of the victims and suspects are from other cities, although he was unsure why they ended up in Kent.

Eleven of the homicides involved the use of handguns and two were from blunt force injuries.

The demographics include seven male suspects and one female suspect. Ten of the victims were male and five were female.

The locations of the incidents include six at apartment complexes, two at convenience stores, two at businesses, one at a motel and one at a mobile home park.

Padilla agreed with Mayor Ralph that the numbers are “pretty startling.”

The chief then expanded on several of the causes for the high number of homicides in the city, starting with the drug epidemic.

“Drugs drive a lot of crime, consumption drives the need to sustain usage,” said Padilla, who added that disputes between people who are armed with guns often have to do with drug trafficking.

Padilla said restrictions on evictions from apartments can lead to shootings or conflicts as well.

“A single mother lives next door to people who shoot guns for fun at parties,” Padilla said as an example. “Right now we are in a very bad way of being able to get bad actors out of complexes, so it gives them a place to commit crime.”

The chief also blamed an unbalanced approach by the King County justice system. He said he supports programs that offer help to those who commit crime, but time in jail can have benefits, too.

“We need to advocate accountability measures and consider the public safety impact,” he said.

For years, Padilla has advocated for more officers. Mayor Ralph and the council have backed him, but the chief said more officers are needed to help prevent crime. Kent has about 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, below the national average of 2.31 officers per 1,000 residents.

Padilla has his fully budgeted allotment of 166 officers, but he pushed 195 officers as a needed number for a city of more than 134,000.

“It’s harder to address crimes if we don’t have the numbers to do it,” said Padilla, who added that officers are typically in a reactive mode to crime. “We’ve got to do more things to be preventative.”

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