Seattle City Council members heard Wednesday from supporters of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s move to boost police patrols and other services in seven neighborhoods this month.
The initiative may lead to increased arrests but includes no quotas, said Eric Greening, the Police Department’s assistant chief for operations. “We just want to be present” to deter and intercept crimes, he added.
Lou Bond, who manages the Melbourne Tower at 3rd Avenue and Pike Street downtown, complained to González’s public-safety committee about conditions near the building, mentioning human waste, discarded needles and people selling stolen goods.
The patrols are being carried out between 911 calls by officers on regular duty and by officers working overtime.
“More police on the street does seem to help,” said Bond, one of about two dozen people who made public comments backing the “emphasis patrols” that launched last Thursday downtown and in Pioneer Square, Sodo, Georgetown, South Park, Fremont and Ballard.
The Department of Neighborhoods, the Department of Transportation and Seattle Public Utilities are working in the same areas to address non-police needs, such as broken streetlights and graffiti, representatives said.
Several downtown heavyweights endorsed the patrols, including the CEO of the private Rainier Club, the owner of the Cherry Street Coffee House chain and developer Greg Smith.
Business-group representatives from Pioneer Square, Sodo and Ballard also spoke out, as did Martin Cortez, a Georgetown resident who said he learned to fear police while growing up in Chicago.
“Reading the news last week, for the first time I felt happy about more police,” Cortez said, raising concerns about a sobering center slated to move to Georgetown from South Lake Union.
Business groups have been pressuring Seattle leaders to better deal with people cycling between jail and the streets. The emphasis patrols aren’t meant to solve that problem, Greening said.
Queen Anne resident Brittney Bollay told the council the patrols could lead to harassment by police of homeless people and said money for the surge could be better spent. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington has warned against discriminatory arrests.
Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best last week said they selected the seven neighborhoods based on community input and crime trends but didn’t initially cite specific data points.
Greening mentioned “fear of crime,” in addition to actual crime, as a reason to target certain areas, leading some constituents in other neighborhoods to wonder why they were passed over.
Best’s executive director for strategy, Christopher Fisher, brought some numbers to González’s meeting Wednesday. Reported crimes rose 2.3% citywide in 2018, compared to 2017, with person crimes increasing 9%. Seattle’s population also grew 2.3%.
Reported crimes are down 12% citywide this year, compared to the same period in 2018. “Overall, the story is good,” Fisher said. “But there are always issues to address.”
From 2017 to 2018, reported crimes grew 28% in Pioneer Square, 35% in Sodo, 12% in Georgetown, 21% in South Park, 52% in Fremont and 11% in south Ballard, with property crimes spiking sharply in several neighborhoods, he said. Crimes downtown rose 2%.
Through March this year, reported crimes climbed in Pioneer Square, Sodo, Fremont and South Park. They dropped downtown and in Georgetown and south Ballard.
Fisher and Greening didn’t immediately answer González’s questions about how much the patrols would cost in overtime pay and how exactly success would be measured.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold, whose District 1 includes South Park, and Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, whose District 7 includes downtown, hailed the push.
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda cautioned against using police to address issues related to street homelessness, such as human waste. “This is a health issue and it deserves a health response,” she said, pointing to Seattle’s lack of public toilets.
Councilmember Abel Pacheco, whose District 4 includes the University District, urged the Police Department to consider that neighborhood for patrols.
The U District will likely receive special attention later this year, Greening said. Police-only initiatives aimed at robberies in Rainier Valley and nightlife problems on Capitol Hill are underway already, and Alki will soon see increased patrols, he added.