Police on Wednesday cleared the former Seattle Times building on John Street of squatters but predicted they’d be back.

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It took three hours for Seattle police on Wednesday to go through the former Seattle Times building on John Street and clear it of squatters who had set up home there.

Police Sgt. Paul Gracy said police started on the roof and worked their way down through the building.

Officers had direct contact with 20 people, some of whom had pets. Three people who were wanted on warrants were arrested, he said.

Witnesses said dozens of people scurried out of the building when police arrived.

The building, left vacant after The Seattle Times moved to a nearby building on Denny Way in 2011, had been a source of complaints and problems in recent years, said police and firefighters. In 2013, the paper sold the building, which sits across from Amazon’s gleaming new headquarters, to Onni Group in Vancouver, B.C.

The old newspaper site, built in 1930-31 at Fairview Avenue North and John Street, was deemed a city historic landmark in the mid-1990s.

Gracy said some complainants estimated that 50 to 200 people were living in the building. One firefighter said medics have been called to the place dozens of times in response to overdoses and other medical issues.

During a quick tour, Gracy pointed to smashed doors, ripped-out wires, torn vents and ducts, graffiti, discarded syringes and piles of human waste. “That’s not lemonade there,” he said, pointing to stained carpets and pillows.

According to Bryan Stevens, a spokesman from the city’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD), the owners of vacant buildings are required to secure them from unauthorized entry.

He said the city is filled with vacant buildings, but most are residential, and few as large as the old Seattle Times building. DPD is a “complaint-based agency” that relies on reports from the public about problems.

In response to complaints, the city issued an emergency order on Aug. 20 requiring the owner to secure the property by Aug. 24, Stevens said.

The owner did not immediately respond to the order but eventually contacted the city, said he planned to secure the building and requested police assistance in “removing people who were not willing to leave on their own,” Stevens said.

The owner couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. But Eric Guisasola of CG Construction, whom the owner hired to secure the building, said he and co-workers have been trying to secure it unsuccessfully for about a month.

“It’s a nightmare,” he said. “They throw things at us.”

Guisasola said there are actually two separate groups of people who were in the building: the homeless and professional thieves.

The thieves have a welding torch and have been able to defeat efforts to keep them out, he said. They “literally have a van painted ‘A Team’ that they park right in front of the building, and they had a lock on the (building’s) door. They have a whole scrapping operation and would come in here 24 hours a day stealing metal and scrapping it out.”

Crews from City Light and Comcast have made repeated trips to the site when the thieves stripped or tried to take wires and cables.

Gracy said police did not search every nook and cranny in the place (and said it wasn’t safe to let the department’s K-9 units in) but that he was “95 percent” certain they’d gotten everyone out.

By nighttime, though, he predicted, “They’ll be back.”

Stevens said that is the plight of many an owner of a vacant building.

“If folks are persistent, it’s tough to keep them out,” he said. He said that some owners have had to hire security firms or erect fencing to keep squatters out.

If the owner fails to secure the building, Stevens said he could be subject to fines of up to $1,000 a day.