More private surveillance cameras coming to Seattle's Chinatown

SEATTLE -- Seattle's Chinatown-International District is a bustling, diverse community -- a popular destination for locals and tourists -- but crime has long been a problem there.

"I don't know, the crime around here is just bad.  It's just really bad,” Chinatown business manager Carmelita Valenzuela said.

Two years ago, one crime in particular sparked a shift in this neighborhood.

"A quick gentleman tagged 32 buildings with spray paint before 8:30 in the morning,” said Don Blakeney, executive director of the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area, a nonprofit organization created in 1994 to promote economic vitality in the neighborhood.

The tagger was caught on a surveillance camera, but because the time stamp on the video wasn't accurate it was not allowed in court and the tagger went free.

After that, business owners, residents and community leaders decided it was time to turn things around and so they met with city leaders and drafted a multimillion-dollar plan to revitalize the neighborhood, bring in new businesses and improve public safety.

"Thirty million dollars' worth of projects and we had to prioritize, so we started tackling one thing at a time,” Blakeney said.

They started with a network of nine cameras in the busiest part of the area, mounted on privately owned businesses with the owner's consent.

The impact was immediate.

"Last winter there was 21 break-ins in the neighborhood over the course of the winter and there were five people who did that, and, with the footage that was caught from people walking on the sidewalk, we were able to identify the folks who did those crimes and bring them to justice,” Blakeney said.

In the two years since the project started, $30,000 has been raised to add more cameras to improve the coverage area.

The goal is to deter crime and help provide police the evidence they need to catch and convict criminals.

Business owner Nora Chan, who has lived in Chinatown 25 years, said he's excited about the direction her neighborhood is headed.

"We have the cameras, we have block walk, we cleaned up the place so we are ready to welcome the general public to come back to visit us in Chinatown,” Chan said.

"This neighborhood is no longer open for criminal activity.  It's not a great place to do business if you're committing crimes,” Blakeney said.

The new cameras aren’t expected to be operational until next year.