June 18, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 25

News

Complaints about drug use, homeless people fill forum on public safety in Pioneer Square

By Hart Hornor / Editorial Intern

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On large sheets of paper, people wrote their concerns and suggestions about public safety in Pioneer Square. The sheets were then taped to the wall of an art gallery across the street from Occidental Park.

Too much crime and too few police officers were common themes.

“All day I see illegal activities,” Kate Vrijmoet, a painter who has a studio in Pioneer Square, told Real Change. “On a regular basis, I can’t go through my door because there are people smoking crack.”

About 200 people attended the June 12 open house to discuss public safety in Pioneer Square. The event, which ran from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., was hosted by the Alliance for Pioneer Square, a business group, in response to growing fear among business owners and residents about crime, said Lisa Dixon, communications and marketing manager for the Alliance.

While most attendees seemed to see crime as a problem in the area, there was no consensus on whom to blame or what to do.

Some pointed to homelessness: “Every time I come down here, it seems just overrun with homeless people hanging around,” said Tim Allen, a digital artist, as he looked out at Occidental Park. “I understand they need a place to go, but we pay for these parks with our tax dollars, and we should be able to use them.”

Others blamed rowdy patrons from the neighborhood’s nightclubs and people with mental illness. Vrijmoet suggested flushing out crime in Occidental Park by holding reading groups and community meetings there. One man suggested rounding up “chronic offenders” and sending them to a camp in the forest.

Captain Drew Fowler of the Seattle Police Department and members of the King County Sheriff’s Office were among several members of law enforcement who stopped by to answer residents’ questions. Fowler said that while serious crimes, such as murder, rape, assault, robbery, burglary and larceny, have declined, residents’ perception of criminal activity has increased.

This is because the city is growing and new residents aren’t used to the neighborhood’s dynamics, he said.

Meanwhile, Scott MacNeill stood on the sidewalk outside the gallery, smoking a home-rolled cigarette and peering through the window. He said he felt perfectly safe in Pioneer Square. “I’ve never been threatened by anybody except the police department,” he said.

Dixon, of the Alliance for Pioneer Square, plans to compile suggestions from the open house and data from an online survey about crime — available at  bit.ly/PSQsafety2014 — to come up with a strategic plan for the future.

Depending on people’s input, she said, this might include organizing a neighborhood watch or offering self-defense classes.

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