Put beat cops back on the streets of business districts. It can be done immediately without new funding.
We believe the city of Seattle has confused “decriminalizing homelessness” with tolerating criminal acts. We are the executive directors of three Business Improvement Areas, or BIAs, in Seattle. BIAs have been established in 10 neighborhood business districts to help ensure that they remain safe, economically vibrant and accessible to everyone.
Recently, the Sodo, Chinatown International District, Ballard, University District and Pioneer Square BIAs hosted a public-safety forum that brought together city officials with local businesses to discuss the criminal and civility problems plaguing our neighborhoods.
From the largest employer in Pioneer Square to a small ice-cream shop owner in the University District, their stories were strikingly the same. Employees and customers fearful for their safety, aggressive and threatening behavior from people suffering from mental health and addiction, property damage, theft, human waste, discarded needles and drug dealing. These are not just random acts but problems that occur daily and often are committed by the same people, who are known to the police and service providers.
Whether they are homeless is not the issue. People are committing criminal acts, and because the city will not arrest or prosecute, there are no consequences and the problem is growing worse. We hear from the police that crime rates are flat, but our experience is very different. Just a few days ago, Phen Huang, the director of the Foster/White Gallery in Pioneer Square, was assaulted inside the gallery.
Dealing with people on the street is a common occurrence for Phen, but this time when she asked the man to leave he became violent. “He struck me across the face twice. At the door, he picked up a large folded umbrella and hit me hard with it several times on the back of my head, neck and forearms. The force of his blows sent me slamming against the window and to the floor. In my 16 years in Pioneer Square, this has never happened before.”
Phen is very concerned about her co-workers, customers and neighbors. “It is not a matter of each of us doing a little more to avoid incidents or locking our doors. We need a bigger and better solution together.”
Hundreds of business owners across Seattle who work hard, provide jobs, pay taxes and serve their communities can describe similar experiences. We have raised these issues with city leaders for years, and we receive the same reassurances about new programs, new interventions, new strategies and new funding, but the problems only get worse. We think it is time for the city to take the following common-sense actions:
- Put beat cops back on the streets of business districts. It can be done immediately without new funding.
- Remove illegal and unsafe encampments on sidewalks and do not let them return.
- Increase the number of navigation teams to allow more coverage and faster response for business districts and the entire city.
- Increase the availability of mental-health and addiction services.
- Focus on crime, and arrest and prosecute those people engaging in criminal activities regardless of their housing status.
The City Council is reviewing the 2019 budget right now. To help fix this problem, we don’t want new programs or a lot of new money, we only ask that the city listen to us and take the actions we have listed. We know it will work if the city has the resolve to enforce and prosecute criminal activity.