Tuesday night, Seattle Police Chief John Diaz told about 80 people who attended the second Belltown Safety Forum in as many months that the department's Late Night Public Safety Initiative — which was launched six weeks ago — will continue through the end of the year.
When the summer ends, the cops who’ve been out on city streets until 4 a.m. on weekends to tame rowdy bar patrons won’t call it quits.
Tuesday night, Seattle Police Chief John Diaz told about 80 people who attended the second Belltown Safety Forum in as many months that the department’s Late Night Public Safety Initiative — which was launched six weeks ago — will continue through the end of the year.
Diaz, along with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, answered a range of questions from Belltown residents and business owners about efforts to deal with the drug dealers and addicts, homeless and mentally ill people, irresponsible club owners and unruly bar patrons who make people afraid to walk the streets at night.
They also dealt with more mundane issues — from garbage and vomit to improperly permitted hot-dog vendors and cracked sidewalks — that also affect safety and civility in the neighborhood. Soon, McGinn said, residents in Belltown will be given a phone number to call for crews to clean up trash from the neighborhood’s streets and alleyways.
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One woman gave a graphic description of a recent 8 a.m. walk to a local store that took her past a pimp and a group of prostitutes, a drug dealer waiting for a buyer and a homeless man who was masturbating in a doorway. McGinn responded that the city’s challenge is to balance public safety with providing services for those who need help:
“We live in a big city and we’re plagued with the problems many big cities have. … If solving homelessness and drug dealing were easy, it would’ve been done a long time ago,” he said.
In addition to Diaz’s announcement that police will extend the Late Night Public Safety Initiative, the newly confirmed police chief said his department is working to secure a $1 million grant from the Ford Foundation.
The grant would allow officers to divert low-level drug offenders into treatment, instead of rearresting them and booking them into jail in an endless cycle. In October, a mental-health professional also will begin working with officers to help defuse problems with people suffering from mental illnesses when their behavior doesn’t rise to the level of a crime, they said.
Criminal-justice researchers at Seattle University have just started a study examining arrest data in downtown neighborhoods, including Belltown, Pioneer Square and the Chinatown International District, Diaz said. The study has the support of King County prosecutors and the American Civil Liberties Union, he said.
“It will be a detailed study on who is doing what. Once you have a handle on that, you can come up with some solutions,” Diaz said.
As for irresponsible club owners, Diaz and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said they are working together to get bar owners to comply with regulations. So far, Holmes said, a “code-compliance team” has been successful in taking its complaints to the state Liquor Control Board.
“We’re batting 1,000 in Olympia. The problem areas and the problem establishments no longer have liquor licenses,” he said.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org