THE latest incident of violent behavior in downtown Seattle is both heartbreaking and disturbing. It is a tragic reminder of why local and state leaders must act now to provide new and sustained resources to improve public safety and increase services to the mentally ill.

Troy Wolff,
a Shoreline Community College professor, was stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack in Pioneer Square last Friday night.

According to police reports, he and his female partner were leaving the Sounders game when she was attacked by a stranger with a knife. Troy intervened to save her life, and in the process lost his.

Those of us who live, work and enjoy downtown Seattle make decisions about our safety every day. We plan our walking routes. Is the group conducting what looks like illicit business in the block ahead one we want to risk engagement with? Should we cross the street now?

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Should we steal a glance to determine whether the person shouting obscenities nearby is a risk to us or another innocent pedestrian?

These are not decisions we look forward to but they are an unavoidable part of life downtown. Thankfully, we usually at least have the time to make them.

Troy Wolff did not have the gift of time. He encountered what we all fear: an immediate choice of life or death. On Friday night it was for someone he cared about. He made a brave decision.

Our local and state leaders made decisions too. City decisions halted in midstream the 2007 Neighborhood Policing Plan to hire 105 police officers across the city over a five-year period.

Decisions in Olympia resulted in significant cuts to mental health funding, the early release of criminals within the prison system and an end to parole supervision for hundreds of others. These decisions are deeply felt in downtown Seattle, where a significant share of the region’s treatment services and subsidized housing are located.

We all have decisions to make now. We cannot bring Troy Wolff back, but we can fix these downtown streets. We call on our local and state leaders to act quickly to:

• Increase police hiring to reach 605 patrol officers, from 507 today, to meet the city’s identified 2007 needs, then institute a plan to address Seattle’s needs in 2013.

• Increase the visible presence of foot and bike patrols in downtown’s most visited areas.

• Restore and increase funding for services to the mentally ill. We are using our downtown streets to house and treat a population with chronic mental-health issues.

• Develop a plan to more equitably distribute treatment services and housing units for individuals in crisis throughout the region.

We can collectively decide, with our elected leaders, to never let this happen again.

Jack McCullough, partner at McCullough Hill Leary PS, is board chair of the Downtown Seattle Association.