City council members raised questions this morning about Mayor Jenny Durkan’s decision to target seven specific neighborhoods for increased police patrols this month based on, as Durkan has put it, “crime and the perception of crime.” In addition to additional officers, the seven neighborhoods will get special attention from Seattle Public Utilities, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and other city departments to address outstanding maintenance needs such as fixing potholes and graffiti.
Representatives from the Seattle Police Department confirmed that patrols are being increased not just in neighborhoods where crime is on the rise, but in areas where crime is down but the “community input,” including reports made through the city’s Find It-Fix it smartphone app. Chris Fisher, a strategic advisor with SPD, said that although crime, particularly property crime, is generally down across the city, there were “pockets” in which crime has spiked or where “issues that aren’t criminal in nature” were causing concern. One question the city asks when determining where to focus policing, Fisher said, is, “What are people feeling on the ground?”
“We’re going with these seven neighborhoods first because we have only so much bandwidth.” —Assistant Police Chief Eric Greening
The seven neighborhoods that will be targeted for extra “emphasis patrols” and additional maintenance are Ballard and Fremont, Pioneer Square and the area around Third and Pike downtown, the SoDo and Georgetown areas just to the south of downtown, and South Park, across the Duwamish River from Georgetown.
Council member Teresa Mosqueda questioned whether the mayor’s approach to crime in neighborhoods was based on data or “the perception that crime is increasing in certain areas. … We have to make sure that the data bears out the policy solutions,” Mosqueda said. “We cannot just have a call for action and just rush to put more [police] on the streets” if the surge isn’t supported by data, Mosqueda said.
Council member Lorena Gonzalez, whose letter asking Durkan to provide some justification for her choice of neighborhoods, pressed assistant police chief Eric Greening to explain what the new patrols would look like on the ground, and whether they would likely result in more arrests. Greening acknowledged that “any time you increase police presence in a neighborhood, the likelihood of arrest also increases,” adding that SPD would focus primarily on people with outstanding warrants, on assaults, and on “predatory drug dealing”—that is, drug dealing for profit above a level needed to support a drug dealer’s own addiction.
“What I’ve heard from every neighborhood and community group is, ‘We are so glad you’re listening not just to what the data is showing but what we’re experiencing in our community.'” — Mayor Jenny Durkan
District 4 council member Abel Pacheco, who was recently appointed to serve out the remainder of former council member Rob Johnson’s term, asked several times why the University District was not included in the emphasis areas, given that it has a higher crime rate than the neighborhoods that were selected. “That was a decision made based on a number of factors, including data and community input, to go with a limited number of neighborhoods,” Greening said. “We’re going with these seven neighborhoods first because we have only so much bandwidth with our partners,” including city departments that, unlike SPD, don’t operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
A representative from one of those departments, SDOT’s chief of staff Genesee Atdkins, told the council that as part of the emphasis patrols, SDOT would be repairing sidewalks, filling potholes, and fixing deteriorating crosswalks in the seven emphasis areas. On Tuesday, during one of the “public safety walks” the city has organized in all seven emphasis neighborhoods, she and others from SDOT noticed “an alley with a very deteriorated condition and we were, right then, able to dispatch some of our crews out to quickly fill some potholes.”
The city council has no authority over SPD or the neighborhoods where the department conducts emphasis patrols, nor to require the mayor to put them through a race and equity analysis. Such an analysis would likely consider issues such as which neighborhoods have actually experienced an uptick in the most serious types of crime, whether the policy was based on 911 calls, “Find It Fix It” reports, and other complaints from neighborhoods with more resources and populations that are likely to feel more comfortable calling police, and whether the “perception of crime” was based on reality or on the presence of visible signs of poverty and homelessness, such as tents.
After the meeting, which Durkan did not attend, the mayor and SPD chief Carmen Best took questions briefly before a scheduled public safety walk in downtown Seattle, the fourth in the series. (The final three will take place tomorrow). Durkan talked about a “holistic” approach to crime and disorder in neighborhoods that sounded not unlike the “broken windows” theory tried, and abandoned, in many US cities in the late 1980s and early 1990s: The emphasis patrols she said, are “not just the police—it’s really going in and taking away the graffiti, [fixing] street lights, activating parks, making sure that neighborhood feels safe.”
Near the end of the brief press event, a reporter asked Durkan for her response to criticism that her emphasis patrols focused on the neighborhoods that complained the most and the loudest, instead of those actually experiencing the most crime. “I haven’t heard that criticism,” Durkan responded. “What I’ve heard from every neighborhood and community group is, ‘We are so glad you’re listening not just to what the data is showing but what we’re experiencing in our community.'”