MAYOR Mike McGinn’s plan to spend $400,000 extending summer police patrols in crime hot spots and hiring new officers is a temporary response to an uptick in violent crime in downtown Seattle.
Longer term, broader strategies are needed to address the physical assaults and intimidation rampant around Westlake Park, Third Avenue and the blocks between downtown’s retail core and Pike Place Market. Street crime has reached unacceptable levels. The Downtown Seattle Association is rightly calling for more park rangers and police foot and bike patrols.
Seattle is in the middle of a mayoral election, and public safety and reform ideas in the Seattle Police Department loom large in the campaign. McGinn’s challenger, state Sen. Ed Murray, says he would increase the number of officers in the Police Department overall as well as the number on specialized beats, for example bike patrols. Murray also wants to speed up the implementation of reforms mandated by the city’s settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Downtown retailers deserve reassurance from both McGinn and Murray that they understand their concerns. It did not help that after the recent shooting of a Metro bus driver, McGinn highlighted a “significant reduction in violent crimes downtown and throughout the city.”
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The mayor relied on selective statistics. A City Council analysis of crime over the past five years in five downtown police beats found crime up about 6.5 percent downtown. In July, the downtown core recorded its highest one-month total for violent crimes — 119 — since 2009.
A Times analysis of four downtown police beats that include the retail and tourist cores found the level of violent crime has held steady, averaging about 80 incidents per month over the past five years. Crime spikes each summer of the past three years suggest a trend that should prompt a proactive response before next summer.
McGinn’s Center City Initiative was launched last year to tackle public drunkenness, aggressive panhandling and other street problems — with some success.
Both candidates for mayor would serve voters better with more data-driven specifics on their policy approaches.