Seattle police may open a downtown storefront to boost policing and provide services in the area where seven people were shot last Wednesday, one fatally.
On Monday, City Councilmember Andrew Lewis called for the city to take that step, and on Tuesday, Police Chief Carmen Best said it may happen, though discussions are ongoing and no site has been selected.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Best told reporters after briefing the City Council’s public-safety committee on other changes the Seattle Police Department is making in the heart of downtown in response to the shooting.
Downtown residents and business owners packed the committee meeting to demand action, saying the neighborhood can feel unsafe. Some waved signs with slogans such as, “Protect Our City.”
“I hear daily from my tenants about the crime they’re dealing with. The harassment. The assaults,” said Sabrina Villanueva, who works at Clise Properties. “It’s getting worse. It’s not getting better.”
Statistics show a rise in some crimes and a drop in others.
There were more homicides, aggravated assaults and rapes reported in Seattle’s downtown core last year than in 2018, according to a presentation by the police. There were fewer robberies, thefts and shots fired reported.
Downtown isn’t the only neighborhood where some residents may want a police storefront, Councilmember Lisa Herbold mentioned Monday. Following a fatal shooting in South Park in November, community members asked about getting a storefront there and were told the police department would consider that request, said Herbold, who chairs the public-safety committee and whose District 1 includes South Park.
Herbold expects the department to make “data-driven decisions” about where to deploy resources throughout the city, she said.
Seattle has increased spending on initiatives meant to steer young people away from gangs and programs meant to secure treatment for people on the streets, Councilmember Tammy Morales said, suggesting more coordination between programs may be needed.
King County prosecutors have accused 21-year-old Jamel Jackson of being one of three shooters who exchanged fire at Third Avenue and Pine Street last week. Seattle police are still looking for Marquise Tolbert and William Tolliver, both 24, having identified them as the other men involved in the deadly gunbattle that broke out suddenly at one of the city’s busiest intersections.
The police department has parked a “mobile precinct” van in the area and increased patrols “to prevent criminal behavior,” Best told council members.
Detectives and other “non-911 responders,” are taking turns in uniform downtown, allowing the department to maintain patrols in other neighborhoods. “They’re rotating through,” the chief said.
Downtown already was getting extra attention. The department carried out thousands of hours of emphasis patrols in the area last year, Lewis noted Monday, making the case that a storefront staffed by community-service officers, employees from other Seattle departments and social workers could help change Third and Pine, where violence has erupted repeatedly over time. He represents District 7, which includes downtown.
“I’ve never in my life seen a Third and Pine different from what is there now,” the council member said, arguing the city should try a new approach.
The police department’s headquarters and West Precinct are located elsewhere downtown. Seattle used a storefront on Second Avenue as an operations center for police and prosecutors during a 2015 push to curb downtown crime. But that site wasn’t open to the public, Lewis said.
Community-service officers are unarmed, noncommissioned cops trained to help with noncriminal matters and mediate nonviolent disputes, Lewis said. The city went without such officers for 15 years but recently decided to reboot the program and should have 12 on the job soon, with an additional six coming later this year.
The city’s 2020 budget says the community-service officers will be based at the police department’s precincts.
Lewis said at least six should be stationed at the downtown storefront and added that the site should be open to the public at all hours. He said the officers and other staffers could take police reports, give directions and connect people with social services.
In an interview, the council member said the environment at Third and Pine attracts criminals because they can blend in with transit riders and people struggling with substance abuse and behavioral-health disorders.
“It’s important that we have an approach that’s about providing interventions for people who clearly aren’t getting the help they need,” he said.
Mayor Jenny Durkan “agrees that our community service officers are critical to addressing public safety issues downtown,” Durkan spokeswoman Kelsey Nyland said in an email Monday.
“Their deployment plan already includes a presence downtown as well as neighborhoods throughout Seattle,” and the mayor wants to ensure that “residents throughout the city have access,” Nyland said.
On Tuesday, Best agreed with Lewis that Seattle must assess options beyond emphasis patrols to achieve lasting change. The city is talking to business owners and transit officials about streetscape changes, she said.
“This cannot be a flash in the pan,” she said. “Sustainability is key here.”
She said the city is looking at whether to open a new site with “resources not only from the police department but also from other city departments.
“We’re going to work with all our partners to see how that looks,” she said.