Many Seattleites say we have a public safety crisis, police go into detail of new emphasis patrols

SEATTLE -  The message at a city council meeting on Wednesday was crystal clear: many in Seattle don’t feel safe.

“The short time I have been here, the cities I have worked in, I’ve never seen crime I see outside my front door,” said one man.

Seattle residents living and working in places like the downtown core, Belltown and Pioneer Square say they are dealing with human feces, needles and an open drug market in broad daylight.

“All of the violent crime that comes with the open air drug market,” a downtown resident said.

People are worried about random assaults; Karin Philomin says someone pushed her aggressively near Pike Place Market.

Karin says it was her first outing after spinal surgery and she was still in recovery mode when the incident happened. She was walking slowly down the street when a man started circling her and asking for money. When she said she didn’t have any Karin says the man hit her shoulder.

She told council members that she’s lived all over the world but that Seattle was the saddest city she’s lived in so far.

Karin and most of the people who showed up to speak at the hearing voiced support for Mayor Jenny Durkan’s new plan, saying their communities desperately need more police presence.

One Georgetown resident who spoke in front of the council said she has already seen positive effects from the emphasis patrol.

Council member Lorena Gonzalez requested a briefing by SPD and other city departments to explain the reasoning and strategy of the emphasis patrol last week. In a letter to Mayor Durkan, Gonzalez issued detailed questions, including one that asked about how they would measure success and whether or not the program had undergone a racial equity test.

“The questions you have asked the mayor is a waste of time,” said one woman.

That same woman said that the implications of those questions suggested that enforcing laws take special justification.

But Gonzalez told the crowd that she understands the frustrations and that she has witnessed the problems people are talking about.

“I want to make sure whatever we are doing is sustainable long term,” Gonzalez said.

Assistant Police Chief Eric Greening says the new plan is not to necessarily to make more arrests. But they will put more bike and foot officers on the streets, raising visibility and communication in the community.  Nine other departments in conjunction with SPD will clean up trash, graffiti and improve lighting.

“Emphasis patrols are nothing new, the only thing here we are taking a multi-disciplinary approach,” Greening said.

During the hearing, SPD released their latest crime data. So far this year they say crime is down by 12 percent overall in Seattle with the exception of aggravated assaults which are up by 6 percent.

They say perception of the level of rampant crime is not supported by the data.

“One person can echo a bad experience, it can take a life of its own,” Greening said.

Couple that with social media, Greening said one person’s post can leave an impression on hundreds.

But even though crime is down so far this year, data from 2017 to 2018 prove that some neighborhoods are seeing big problems with crime.

From 2017 to 2018 places like South Ballard saw an 11 percent increase in crime, Pioneer Square was up by 28 percent and Fremont saw a whopping 52 percent spike.

Stats show that in the downtown commercial area, aggravated assaults are a big problem. Since 2016 the city has seen an increase in person crimes and in 2018 there was a 16 percent increase primarily due to robberies and aggravated assaults.

Many who testified today say despite the stats Seattle has a public safety crisis.

We asked Greening how perception could be wrong considering huge spikes in places like Fremont.

“It’s different in different neighborhoods; Fremont issue that was a real issue we tried to jump on that,” Greening said.

Greening says this year many of the neighborhoods are doing better, although we won’t know the true impact until the end of the year.

After Greening’s briefing many of the council members including Sally Bagshaw, Lisa Herbold and Lorena Gonzalez voiced support for the emphasis patrol.

Council members also brought up frustrations over perception that city leaders are keeping officers from enforcing laws.

We asked Greening if the Mayor or city council members have ever told SPD to go easy on homeless people committing crimes.

“Never, never,” said Greening.

Many say they want tougher enforcement and they are hoping the 30 day emphasis patrols will be extended.

“This shouldn’t be temporary, this should be permanent,” Natalia Biner-Wittke said.

Greening said the program is only 30 days because of limited resources but he promised that they would evaluate the progress and measure success. After analyzing data he says city leaders would address how to move forward.

If things do not get better, one Seattle resident had a warning for council members.

“Will you do better if you won’t we are in the cusp of a golden opportunity to look for people who will do better,” said Maddy Brindle.