After a summer of complaints by residents and retailers over escalating violence near Westlake Mall, Seattle police say they wrapped up an undercover operation this week with the arrest of more than 30 suspected drug dealers and gang members.
The investigation, dubbed “Operation Happy Holidays,” was launched three months ago in response to reports of criminal activity near the Third Avenue corridor, said police said in a news release Wednesday.
“This operation was about helping downtown businesses and their customers as well as Metro Employees and transit riders downtown,” said Sgt. Thomas Flanagan of the King County Sheriff’s Office, whose agency was among several that took part in the operation.
During the sting, undercover officers purchased crack cocaine, powder cocaine, pills, and marijuana, police said.
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The operation was complicated by street-savvy drug dealers who do not typically sell to unknown customers, according to SPD Gang Unit Sgt. Steve Jandoc.
“Dealers will sell marijuana, but they like to get to know their customers before they’ll sell other drugs. Nevertheless, undercover officers were able to buy crack, ecstasy and other drugs from dealers,” Jandoc said.
“Operation Happy Holidays” was aimed not at addicts, but at the drug dealers and gang members who supply them.
The operation began after a number of high-profile incidents in and around Westlake, including the July assault of a Seaboard Building security guard Joseph Crudo allegedly by a 13-year-old boy.
In an August letter sent to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and members of the Seattle City Council, William Mackay — a resident of the Seaboard building and president of Friends of Westlake — urged officials to permanently assign police officers to Westlake Park, citing the attack on Crudo.
In the letter, Mackay wrote that a gang of 20 to 30 young people had taken over the southern section of the park, where they hung around all day, selling and smoking marijuana.
“The city has always thrown temporary police resources at the problem, but as soon as the extra police presence is inevitably withdrawn, the gang returns. This scenario is no longer working. This gang is more determined and much more violent than in the past,” Mackay wrote.
Of the 31 people arrested so far this week as part of “Operation Happy Holidays,” Seattle police said that most had prior felony convictions, including one individual who had 12 felony convictions. Police said they have been able to build cases against nine additional people as a result of the operation and expect more arrests.
Police said the operation also resulted in the recovery of a handgun and evidence of crack-cocaine manufacturing at a Georgetown motel.
The effort was led by Seattle police in cooperation with the Sheriff’s Office’s Metro Transit Police; state Department of Corrections; King County Prosecutor’s Office; FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Christine Clarridge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8983.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.