Renton Police Department’s Meeghan Black speaks at the 2024 community safety forum with (from left) Chief Jon Schuldt, Jimmy Hung, Veronica Galván, Randy Matheson and Katya Wojcik. Photo by Joshua Solorzano/The Reporter

Renton Police Department’s Meeghan Black speaks at the 2024 community safety forum with (from left) Chief Jon Schuldt, Jimmy Hung, Veronica Galván, Randy Matheson and Katya Wojcik. Photo by Joshua Solorzano/The Reporter

Renton community safety forum targets crime stats, domestic violence

Renton Police chief says when he first started it was rare to have a firearm incident on the street

Renton hosted a community safety forum on June 5 at Carco Theatre to address crime in the city.

According to Meeghan Black, a spokesperson for the Renton Police Department, the night’s goal was to provide a respectful place for people to discuss the community’s problems. She said the forum was a time to post questions, get questions answered, and learn from one another. About 130 to 150 people attended.

“We want to focus on solution-based decisions tonight. We want to figure out ways of coming together so that we can help improve the safety and the quality of life here in Renton for everyone who lives and works here,” said Black.

The discussion panel included Renton Police Chief Jon Schuldt, King County Juvenile Prosecuting Office’s Division Chief Jimmy Hung, Clark Children and Family Justice Center Chief Judge Veronica Galván, Renton School District Executive Director of Community Relations Randy Matheson, and Project Be Free Executive Director Katya Wojcik.

Firstly, Chief Schuldt spoke about the police department’s rate of calls per year. He cited that in 2019, there were about 80,000 calls, and in 2020, due to the pandemic, calls dropped to about 71,000. Although calls are revving up, he said the calls still aren’t to pre-pandemic normal levels, with about 76,500 in 2023.

Schuldt said the most common calls are welfare checks, which are largely overdose calls. The second-most popular call was suspicious persons or vehicle calls, which Schuldt said goes back to the saying, “see something, say something.”

Rise in shootings

Schuldt also spoke on what he said was the reason most people came — the rise in shootings.

“Honestly, this is kind of the point of why we’re here. So, over the last five-year period, we’ve gone from 82 firearms calls in 2019 to 212 in 2023. And then, so far in 2024, we’ve had 110. And we haven’t even hit the halfway point of the year,” Schuldt said. “This is that real significant statistic that shows the type of crime, number one, that the officers are responding to. When I first started, if we had an incident involving a firearm on the street, it was rare.”

Schuldt pointed to juvenile crime as a significant reason why firearm calls have been on the rise. He said juvenile crimes range from assaults to firearm crimes, robberies, and overall firearm involvement, whether it’s an illegal discharge or a possession charge. Schuldt said that at the beginning of 2024, the department became more concerned about juvenile crime, but since then, they’ve seen their recent efforts make an impact. He said there were 23 juvenile arrests in April, but since the end of April, there have only been four juvenile arrests.

Hung, of the county’s juvenile prosecuting office, said the number of juvenile crimes referred to him for prosecution has been declining, and juvenile crime as a whole has been declining. Hung said people might feel like crime has been worse because the numbers were low during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the lower number of crimes, he said, the types of crimes committed by juveniles are worse.

“We see now children carrying guns, committing crime with guns. And so crimes are more serious,” Hung said. Hung said his team aggressively prosecutes these juvenile crimes. Despite that, Hung said not every case would end up coming to him, and instead, there would be a court-based diversion. Although some cases do get diverted, Hung said shooting cases, gun cases, homicide cases, and violent assault cases are not diverted.

Hung believes a large reason juvenile crime is on the rise is that kids are disengaged in school. He said that after the COVID-19 pandemic, they learned from the Seattle Public Schools that 4,000 to 6,000 kids were no longer going to school, for example.

“So if you think about that, 4,000 to 6,000 kids who were going to school before no longer going to school. What do we think they’re going to be doing? Right?” Hung said.

Judge Galván said juvenile probation counselors work with juvenile offenders and their families, providing support services and assessing their needs, emphasizing that juveniles will not be incarcerated for life. She said that many of the juveniles are still affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Covid had a significant impact on their mental health. They’re presenting with very complex issues that you routinely don’t see in young children. I have children as old as 12 before me who have fentanyl addictions. The proliferation of guns is extraordinary,” Galván said. Additionally, she said juveniles often don’t have the support at home they need, they need mental health services, and they need to feel comfortable in schools.

Domestic violence

Wojcik, co-founder and executive director of Project Be Free, outlined the nonprofit’s support for families experiencing domestic violence. She said domestic violence extends beyond intimate partners to include siblings, parents and children, neighbors, and extended family members.

Wojcik spoke about Project Be Free’s Domestic Violence Co-Responder Program, where licensed clinicians accompany law enforcement on domestic violence calls. They collaborate with police departments in Renton, Newcastle, Kent and Auburn, with Renton being the first priority.

“As odd as it sounds, my favorite DV [domestic violence] calls to respond to are what are called our domestic violence prevention calls, where there is a verbal dispute among family members that has not progressed to the point of physical violence, and we are able to deter people from being physically harmed in those situations,” Wojcik said.

Wojcik said she’s responded to calls in cars and other calls in mansions, so domestic violence affects everyone. She said in Renton that the calls they are responding to often involve 11- to 21-year-olds who have co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders, and that 91% of these calls involve single-parent households. She said many of these situations involving single-parent households are because a parent left an abusive situation. She said the children will then often become violent toward their parents, and then they get involved in gangs. Although it can be challenging, Wojcik said positive change can happen.

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