Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell gave a deeper look at his crime prevention initiatives Friday, touting recent successes in law enforcement, but no progress on services promised in his “holistic” approach.
In February, Harrell announced he would direct the Seattle Police Department to focus their efforts on areas of town with concentrated criminal activity. Friday, he and law enforcement partners from the region introduced “Operation New Day” to do exactly that.
“I’ve been on the job for about nine weeks. Yes, it seems like nine years, but nine weeks. And I did not inherit the systems that are necessary to do this kind of work,” Harrell said, later saying he “inherited a mess.”
To create new systems, Harrell says he’s working with SPD Interim Chief Adrian Diaz, Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Department of Justice.
“So we’re pulling together this kind of One Seattle approach. We’re working with regional leaders, people that have been in this space, in this field much longer than myself.”
The first spot to get the New Day treatment was the area around 12th Avenue and South Jackson Street in Little Saigon, where an increased police effort resulted in 80 felony arrests between January 1 and March 3, including seven felony gun violations, 25 commercial burglaries, 23 felony narcotic investigations or arrests,19 felony warrant arrests, three felony organized retail theft arrests and one felony assault.
SPD also touted about 120 misdemeanor arrests in the area over the same time frame, as well as nine drug overdoses treated by officers, as a result of the operation.
Diaz said SPD will continue to monitor 12th and Jackson and work to combat crime displacement, noting that when they hone in on a specific area, the remaining criminal activity “is going to go somewhere.”
“We’ve seen early improvement at 12th and Jackson, but to be clear that’s so much work to do. Our efforts are nowhere near complete,” Harrell said. “We don’t take victory laps. This is ongoing work.”
Now, as efforts shift toward Third, SPD has deployed a mobile precinct near the site of the most recent shooting; will keep six dedicated officers with additional patrol support in the area; and will partner with the King County Sheriff’s Office to increase law enforcement presence in the area.
Even as SPD makes arrests, King County prosecutes felonies, the city attorney works to “aggregate” misdemeanors for repeat offenders and Harrell works to orchestrate the different partners, Chief Diaz says it’ll take outside efforts to help keep crime at bay.
“Many challenges facing our city cannot be solved by one department,” Diaz said. “SPD cannot arrest its way our of rising crime, homelessness, mental health and economic equality.”
And Harrell agrees. In February, the mayor said this plan would be holistic and include social support services, echoed by Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell in the same conference.
“Public safety is all of the tools that we need in order for people in this city to actually feel safe, and that is going to also include mental health supports as well as support for substance abuse for those who have gone through this very tough time,” Monisha Harrell said during the initial announcement.
“The one thing that should be very clear with this team is that we understand the holistic approach to what it is going to take to bring public safety to the city of Seattle.”
But on Friday — at a news conference with five law enforcement representatives and no service providers — Harrell made clear that the administration is making arrests first, offering services second.
“After an area is somewhat stabilized, we want to have our social workers go out there and figure out who needs treatment,” Harrell said when asked about social services. “One of the best times, unfortunately, to treat someone with drug and alcohol issues, as an example, could possibly be when they’re arrested.”
He said he was “doing an inventory” of community organizations that receive city funds before “naming organizations” to help with this working, noting for a second time that he has been in office for just over two months.
Asked again about services, the mayor told reporters to “assume that I know that people are hurting out there as a result of this drug epidemic.”
“Assume that we’re leading with our hearts as well,” he added.
A spokesperson for Harrell confirmed after the news conference that there had not been any service push from the Mayor’s Office yet at 12th and Jackson or on Third, noting “the second step is outreach.”
“I think we’re still at a place where we would not yet consider [12th and Jackson] held long enough,” Director of Communications Jamie Housen said Friday. “It’s only been a couple of weeks and we want to stabilize areas first.”
The Mayor’s Office again refused to provide a list of other locations likely to be addressed in Harrell’s plan. Housen related the decision to the way the city manages homeless encampment sweeps, noting they don’t share lists of upcoming sweeps far in advance because the order and timing is subject to change.
Housen said the Mayor’s Office “will make more locations public as we decide we have more places to announce.”
Diaz said after the conference that SPD will track data on serious crimes — assaults, shootings and robberies — and causes of “one-off” shootings to determine where they focus Operation New Day.
“I couldn’t tell you the other areas. We’re constantly assessing that list right now,” Diaz said. “These two are obviously the most dedicated areas that we want to focus on.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.