King County Sheriff John Urquhart said Seattle’s downtown streets are so scary his wife won’t get out of her car there.
But Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel said he’s heard complaints about high crime since he started with SPD in 1982.
“Every year, it’s never been worse, to some people,” Pugel said, adding that Belltown, for example, is cleaner and safer than ever.
On Sept. 4, Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell welcomed 20 officials from law enforcement, private business and social services to the first of a series of quarterly meetings on crime and disorder in Seattle’s downtown core.
Harrell noted that most accounts of a spike in crime have so far have been anecdotal. He urged the group to collect data to determine if things really are getting worse.
But he also stated that things are not improving: “We don’t seem to be moving the needle,” Harrell said.
The Downtown Seattle Association sent a letter to Mayor Mike McGinn July 31 complaining about a recent spate of downtown crimes. Forty-one businesses and organizations signed on to the letter that called downtown crime and disorder unacceptable.
The letter highlights eight incidents, including an alleged assault against Seattle Hotel Association President David Watkins. But those present at the Sept. 4 meeting with Harrell mostly talked about mental illness and homelessness.
The conversation quickly veered toward long-standing complaints about public urination in Seattle; the Downtown Seattle Association offered a report claiming that there were 1,600 such instances observed by the Metropolitan Improvement District ambassadors — the yellow-shirted people on bikes who offer directions and assistance to tourists.
The city is already working on solutions to deal with downtown crime, said Lisa Daugaard, deputy director of the Defender Association. Mayor Mike McGinn organized the City Center Initiative, bringing together people who work in law enforcement, private business and social services.
Many of those at Harrell’s meeting are participating in the City Center Initiative.
“What we’re trying to do is, for the first time, create a continuum of response,” Daugaard said, adding that it will take time to see the results of the group’s work.
Most agreed that the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Office could not use arrests as a way to make the problem away.
Doing that is a very expensive approach, said Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. She said much of the so-called disorder is actually homeless and poor people who are trying to survive on the street.