Is Seattle safe? In the past couple years, the news media have gone to great lengths to highlight crime and so-called lawlessness in Pacific Northwest cities like Seattle and Portland.
While there have been some notable incidents, much of the discussion about Seattle being unsafe has been exaggerated.
At the same time, though, crime here is on an uptick, and homelessness is a major issue across the entire city.
So is it safe to travel to Seattle right now? Let’s go over what the numbers say, along with my own personal insight from living in this city for the past several years.
Why is There a Perception That Seattle is Unsafe?
Statistically, Seattle has never been a particularly unsafe city. Rates of violent crime, especially, have always been far lower here than in cities like St. Louis, Chicago, and Detroit, to name a few.
Unfortunately, we live in a polarized society today, and images of crime are often glorified on partisan news outlets and on social media.
Seattle had some of the most fervent riots during the nationwide protests in 2020 after police killing of George Floyd. Police seemingly overreacted and sprayed tear gas on protesters, leading to several days of tension between police and residents.
Protestors then formed CHOP, a police-free zone in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. The self-declared autonomous zone lasted for nearly a month and was mostly a peaceful, community-centered festival-like environment, until a couple shootings eventually led to the zone shutting down.
The neighborhood had returned to normal by July 2020, but in some circles, a perception that Seattle is a lawless city lingered.
Seattle Crime Statistics
What do the numbers say? Last year’s annual crime report from the SPD indicated a 4% increase in “violent and property crime,” with the overall total reaching a 15-year high.
On the service, that seems alarming. But this statistic feels misleading. Why is violent crime lumped together with property crime?
Violent crime is armed robbery, assault, murder. Property crime is theft, vandalism, car break-ins, that sort of thing. They are not the same. The fact that the Seattle Police Department chose to link together violent crime and property crime is peculiar.
Seattle PD and the residents of Seattle have had a tenuous relationship for awhile now, going back to the days that protesters chanted “defund the police” in the streets. It would not be unlike SPD to release misleading stats to make it seem as though crime is worse than it is.
Homicides last year rose by 24%, a huge percentage which feels alarming. Until you realize that the increase was from 41 murders to 52. Fifty-two murders in a year is still quite low for a large city. Compare that to other cities:
Number of homicides in select U.S. cities, 2022: (source)
New York City 438
Los Angeles 382
You might say that those cities are much larger than Seattle, and logically should have more homicides. Well, that’s true. So let’s look at homicide rate, which adjusts for population.
Homicides per 100,000 residents for those same cities, 2022:
New York City 5.2
Los Angeles 9.9
Seattle’s rate of 7.1 compares favorably to most U.S. cities. In terms of homicide, Seattle actually ranks as the 20th-safest city in the U.S. in 2022.
Compare that to the most dangerous cities, by murders per 100k: New Orleans (74.3), St. Louis (68.2), Baltimore (58.1), Detroit (48.9), Memphis (45.9.)
So, yes, in comparison to other places across the country, it’s safe to travel to Seattle.
Homelessness and Perceived Lack of Safety in the City
Aside from lingering memories of rioting during the 2020 protests, the number one reason why many perceive Seattle as unsafe these days is because homelessness has continued to spiral out of control.
Massive tent cities keep popping up all over the city. Drug use is common. So is mental illness. It is not unusual to see a homeless person screaming at no one in particular as they walk down the street, even in nice neighborhoods.
That’s the sort of thing that makes people feel uncomfortable, and even unsafe.
I lived for years in Chicago, which has a lot of homeless folks. But West Coast homeless are on a different level. They can be more aggressive at times. They sometimes even panhandle inside fast food outlets, something that was unthinkable in Chicago.
But that’s the exception. Most homeless folks do not pay any attention to passersby and are simply trying to survive another day.
As long as you understand that you will encounter homeless folks during your visit, there is no reason to feel unsafe in the city.
Is It Safe to Travel to Seattle? The Local Perspective
Yes. It’s just as safe (or safer) than any large American city.
Here’s something telling. When I first moved to Seattle, I asked my friend, a long-time resident, “What are the dangerous neighborhoods that I should avoid?” His response: “There aren’t any.”
That was a surprising reply. Doesn’t every city have dangerous areas that the media refers to using code words like “inner city” and “ghetto?”
Now that I’ve lived here for awhile, I can confirm he was correct. Some parts of Seattle do have higher levels of crime, but none qualify as areas where you would be scared to drive through.
I would recommend avoiding Third Avenue downtown at night. And perhaps Sodo, Rainier Beach, and Pioneer Square at night. More dense areas like Capitol Hill and the U District have higher levels of theft and property crime.
Otherwise, it’s a perfectly safe city. The 700,000-plus residents of the city continue to go about our business as usual.
Here’s a photo from a “Shakespeare in the Park” live theater performance I attended last week. We, the residents of Seattle, are living our lives normally.
Basic tips for safety in Seattle: Don’t keep valuables in your car, and be aware of your surroundings, as you would in every big city.
Conclusion: Should I Visit Seattle Now?
That’s up to you, but there’s no compelling reason to avoid visiting the city. You can walk around the city, you can take public transportation, and you can enjoy Seattle’s attractions and activities.
Would you visit Seattle right now? Leave a comment and let us know!
Looking for a Seattle hotel? Check out these great options:
• Hilton Motif – Excellent views from upper floors and great downtown location
• CitizenM – Upscale lodging in the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood
• Ace Hotel – Modern and trendy hotel in Belltown
• Green Tortoise Hostel – Budget lodging with dorm rooms downtown