The Seattle City Council will hear details later this week about a move by Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best to beef up patrols in seven neighborhoods during May.
Durkan administration representatives will appear at the council’s public-safety committee Wednesday to answer questions posed by Councilmember M. Lorena González, who chairs the committee, she said. González has requested that Best attend.
The council member last week sent the mayor and chief a list of queries related to the “pre-summer emphasis program,” asking about overtime costs, whether officers would be making additional street stops and whether the program underwent a racial-equity analysis.
She has heard some constituents ask why their neighborhoods weren’t selected for attention, despite violent-crime issues, and others may be concerned about the surge leading to discriminatory arrests, she said.
González also wants to know how similar the push will be to the “9 1/2 Blocks” strategy in 2015 that involved a number of arrests, extra patrols and streetscape changes downtown.
“I appreciate the executive and the Police Department taking seriously some of the livability and public-safety concerns that I also hear,” said González, a citywide representative. “But I have a lot of questions about how this program was developed.”
The new program, which launched last Thursday downtown and in Pioneer Square, Sodo, Georgetown, South Park, Fremont and Ballard, has drawn mixed reactions.
Durkan and Best said they chose the neighborhoods partly based on community input, and some business leaders hailed the move. Business Improvement Area groups have for months been calling on Seattle to better handle people who cycle between jail and the streets.
The target neighborhoods include industrial and semi-industrial areas where many unauthorized homeless camps have been located.
“Our neighborhoods are crying for help and impacts of recidivism continue unchecked,” Sodo Business Improvement Area Executive Director Erin Goodman said in a statement echoed by Lisa Howard, Alliance for Pioneer Square executive director. “These emphasis patrols are a welcome first step.”
Heidi Wills, a council candidate this year in District 6, which includes Fremont and Ballard, also put out a statement hailing the patrols.
In Fremont, reported property crimes increased 57 percent from 2016 to 2018, and in south Ballard, they increased 24 percent, she noted.
“These statistics mirror what I have been hearing as a candidate,” said Wills, who previously served on the council in the early 2000s. “Many people and small-business owners in District 6 want more of a police presence.”
The emphasis program has been met with some skepticism in other quarters.
While Durkan and Best said they also chose the neighborhoods based on data analysis, with the mayor mentioning property-crime increases, they pointed to no particular data points and the Police Department declined to share specific information.
Crime has actually decreased recently in some of the target areas, said Eric Greening, the department’s assistant chief for patrol operations.
A woman was shot Friday night near Garfield Community Center in the Central District, where person crimes increased 23 percent from 2016 to 2018.
“I want to make sure these neighborhoods were chosen based on data … rather than political expediency or a response to vocal special-interest groups,” González said.
The Durkan administration informed González about the program the evening before announcing it and, at the time, identified only five neighborhoods, she said. Georgetown and South Park weren’t initially named, the council member said.
“We have several concerns about this program,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington said in a statement, raising questions about what officers have been instructed to do, how the neighborhoods were chosen and how success will be measured.
Past initiatives focused on arrests and citations “have amplified systematic race, class and other types of bias and failed to keep communities safe,” ACLU-WA added. “We will be monitoring this program closely.”
Seattle police regularly use emphasis patrols to deal with hotspots, no matter when they emerge, and have previously mounted special operations ahead of warmer weather, which can be accompanied by more crime. In spring 2017, the department teamed up with other law-enforcement agencies in the region to address gang disputes.
This year, a goal is to deter crime and reduce “fear of crime” by boosting police visibility, Durkan and Greening said. Other Seattle departments will tackle maintenance and outreach needs in the same neighborhoods, the mayor said. The emphasis patrols won’t circumvent the city’s regular protocols for clearing encampments, Greening vowed.
The Police Department has instructed officers to walk through the target neighborhoods and talk with business owners when not responding to 911 calls, the assistant chief said. The department is also using overtime duty. The patrols will run through June 1, at which point they may move elsewhere.
Federal authorities helped launch the 9 1/2 Blocks strategy by making more than two dozen arrests, mostly related to drug dealing. This year’s push has included no similar crackdown.
“How do we make sure we deter [the crime spikes], get rid of graffiti, clean up bushes?” Durkan said last week in an interview with The Seattle Times editorial board.
“Because the broken-windows theory is accurate, to a certain extent,” she added, referring to the idea that signs of neglect and disorder create an environment conducive to serious crimes. “People are going to be out more … It’s common in policing now to add that presence in.”
Along with that, “We will continue all the [human-services] outreach we do,” the mayor stressed.
González wants to know more. The ways some cities have engaged in broken-windows policing, involving discretionary arrests by officers, have been criticized for sometimes resulting in people of color being unfairly targeted.
“There may be more effective ways to deal with the perception issue [than patrols and arrests],” she said. “We have an obligation to meet the needs of neighborhoods in a sustainable way.”