Seattle business owners issue cry for help, ask city leaders to address repeat offenders

SEATTLE - Emerald City Guitars is proud of their 25 year history in Pioneer Square.

But over the last couple of years, isolation has seeped into the vibe of the Seattle store.

“We want to make this neighborhood flourish, bring beauty, work ethic, a good experience and we aren’t getting any assistance on that,” Boone said.

Sidewalk debris is the least of Boone's worries.

“There are so many gruesome details, we have these serious violent scary people,” Boone said.

Boone says his customers and employees are harassed and victimized often by the same person.

“He was out there throwing rocks at cars and customers, death threats, showing up at our window bloody,” Boone said.

Boone says police would eventually show up and address the problem but the same man would come back day after day after.

“There was about 25 to 30 incidences where I called police, that many times,” Boone said.

They feel unsafe enough to install a metal gate outside their storefront, all their customers now have to buzzed in.

Boone says he is ashamed of the gate but during our visit Q13 News saw why he feels the need for it. A man the store has a restraining order against, was back asking for money.

“This guy thinks we owe him $70,000 and he’s been screaming at customers freaking out, we've had him picked up by the cops about 15 times,” Boone said.

What Boone is experiencing is not rare.

“It's getting progressively worse,”  Andrew Tasakos said.

Tasakos works at Nikole O'Bryan's Dental Office in the University District. He says they asked for a bench to be removed from a bus stop outside. It's their desperate effort to keep people from sitting on the bench dealing drugs and shooting up outside their business.

Employees of the dental office shared videos with Q13 News that shows people shooting up with needles in broad daylight.

“It's difficult and heartbreaking.”

Thousands of businesses are now at a boiling point and they are unified behind one goal.

“We've not really focused in on or spent any time looking at criminal justice system of some of the true troublemakers,” Visit Seattle CEO Tom Norwalk said.

Seven of the largest businesses and neighborhood associations commissioned the report called System Failure.

Read the full report

They looked at police reports of 100 repeat offenders and created a profile of their journey through the criminal justice system. It shows that many of the individuals went to jail 10 or more times in the past year accruing to more than 50 criminal cases for some over the years.

For example in one of the most prolific cases, we had one man booked into King County jail 16 times in the past year, with most of the cases happening in the University District or Capitol Hill.

Some of the offenses he was arrested for include assault, harassment, theft and property destruction. The report says many of the crimes they tracked involved random assaults in busy commercial areas and the offenders would come back to the same spots to repeat their crimes.

“At times I think we are overly progressive in the sense that no one is held accountable."

But Norwalk is not talking about just longer jail time.

“I think we need to find more funding for more diversion programs more accountability when someone is out on diversion programs, more accountability from the justice department itself,” Norwalk said.

The report says the 100 repeat offenders all had substance abuse problems. It says all of the 100 repeat offenders they profiled happened to be homeless and about 40% flagged for mental illness.

“It's a really complicated problem that takes a lot of organizations and entities,” Lisa Howard with Pioneer Square Alliance said.

The System Failure report was sent to various leaders including City Attorney Pete Holmes and Mayor Durkan. Durkan did not agree to a sit down in-depth interview on the report but she did answer some questions during a meeting on Monday. The mayor says the issue is a top priority for the city.

“We see that there’s areas of our city that there’s an uptick we have to deal with it,” Durkan said.

Durkan also agreed that alternative treatments are important.

“Those people that perhaps need more support services and haven’t yet committed crimes but may need to make sure that we get the support services through programs like LEAD and other programs to prevent the crime as well,” Durkan said.

She also said repeat criminal have to have consequences.

“You can’t arrest your way out of it but you can make sure that the people who are the most prolific offenders get arrested, and get charged and stay in jail,” Durkan said.

It's a complicated problem with no new and clear answers on how the city plans to turn things around.

Until then, business owners like Boone says they will have no choice but to close themselves in.

“Obviously we are not experts at criminal justice reform but we need someone to listen and take it seriously,” Boone said.

Boone, who belongs with the Pioneer Square Alliance, says his group has pleaded with Seattle city council to deal with the issue but he says no one is paying attention. Q13 News reached out to the spokesperson for the city council but not one of the council members have responded.

Holmes did send a statement:

“This report confirms what we already know - nearly all prolific offenders commit crimes rooted from mental health and/or chemical dependency issues.  There’s little question that without direct intervention and enhanced investment in mental health, chemical dependency treatment, and housing options, this population is extremely likely to reoffend upon completion of their respective sentences.  Few would argue the traditional criminal justice system is the best way to remedy these underlying issues, which is why we’re invested in the King County-led Familiar Faces Initiative and Vital pilot program, created to address the behavior of the region’s most frequent offenders.

These business improvement organizations raise legitimate concerns - to have a person harm their business or employees, serve their sentence, then return to commit that same crime again is as dispiriting as it is alarming. This report makes no recommendations, but whatever the next step, this is a conversation that must include our King County government partners as well, in that they lead the region’s coordination and investment in mental health and addiction treatment.”

Out of the 5 names the report was addressed to, only one agreed to a sit down on camera, and that is Seattle Municipal Court Judge Ed McKenna.

Q13 News also reached out to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg who has also agreed to talk about this issue.

Q13 News plans to sit down with McKenna and Satterberg on Wednesday and will file another report.