1. After Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced plans to crack down on a street market in the Little Saigon neighborhood earlier this month, Seattle police officers swept the area last Friday, parking a mobile precinct at the intersection of 12th Ave. S. and S. Jackson St. and posting a half-dozen uniformed officers nearby. The southeast corner of the intersection, which housed an informal market for stolen goods, food, and illicit drugs, vanished; King County Metro removed a bus shelter from the intersection on Wednesday, and the neighboring strip mall installed a partial fence around its parking area.
The sudden police presence pushed people who frequented the market, including some who are unhoused, into the surrounding neighborhoods and encampments. A woman who lives under the I-5 overpass on King St. told PubliCola on Friday that some of the corner’s regulars briefly gathered near her tent on Friday morning before she told them to leave. “We told them aren’t welcome here,” she said. Other displaced people attempted to move into an encampment on 10th Ave. S, where they also encountered some objections, and a man selling toilet paper set up shop near a utilities box on a quiet side street. “We’re just being moved around in a circle again,” he said.
Although Harrell promised that “social service providers” would play a role in his plan to revive Little Saigon—an epicenter of Seattle’s public safety woes since the start of the pandemic, and one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods—Friday’s action relied exclusively on police.
Although some officers went door-to-door to nearby business owners on Friday to check in, one of those proprietors—the owner of Ten Sushi, located in the strip mall on the southeast corner of the intersection—wrote on Instagram that she still plans to leave the neighborhood, arguing that the police presence is only temporary.
“This improvement at 12th and Jackson demonstrates early results and a promising first step as Mayor Harrell continues to roll out his comprehensive approach to public safety,” a spokesman for Harrell’s office told PubliCola. “SPD’s efforts are one part of the administration’s broader strategy to ensure a safe and thriving neighborhood. In addition to addressing crime, next steps include providing social services, driving economic development, keeping areas free of litter and trash, and, most importantly, engaging community in immediate and forward-looking solutions.”
2. The Seattle Police Department estimates that its ranks could increase to 1,000 officers—still well below the department’s pre-pandemic size—by the end of 2022 if it is able to slow the pace of attrition, meet its optimistic hiring goals and count on officers returning from long-term leave.
However, a bill making its way through the Washington State Legislature may throw a wrench in the department’s plans. The bill, which would increase retirement benefits for officers who have worked in law enforcement for 15 years or more, could spur some of SPD’s older officers to retire early, interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz warned during a meeting of the Seattle City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.
In 2021, 171 officers left SPD, and the department hired only 81 new officers, most of them new recruits, as opposed to transfers from other law enforcement agencies. In January 2022 alone, SPD lost another 20 officers, including 12 who opted to leave the department instead of complying with Seattle’s vaccine mandate for public employees. SPD hopes to hire 125 more officers this year and has avoided making any estimates about attrition, but the council estimates that the department may lose as many officers as it hires in 2022. Meanwhile, 170 officers are on long-term leave; some of those officers will return, but others are using their paid time off before formally retiring.
In a pitch to boost SPD’s regrowth, former mayor Jenny Durkan debuted a hiring incentive program last October that offered up to $10,000 for new recruits and $25,000 for officers who transfer from other departments, though SPD spokesman Sergeant Randall Huserik told PubliCola in January that the incentives didn’t produce “any uptick in applications.” The council attempted to end the hiring incentive program in December of last year, but Durkan ordered SPD to continue offering bonuses to new recruits into the new year, erroneously claiming that the council’s vote wasn’t legally binding; Mayor Bruce Harrell finally stopped SPD from offering incentives earlier this month.
During Tuesday’s meeting, public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold and council member Sara Nelson, who worked together as council aides for Nick Licata and Richard Conlin, respectively, clashed over whether to renew the hiring incentive program. Herbold argued that the city should consider expanding hiring incentives for all departments with staffing shortages, while Nelson argued that SPD’s staffing shortage demands a more urgent response.
3. After activists thwarted the removal of an encampment that stretches along the west side of Fourth Avenue on Sunday, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office confirmed that the city still plans to remove the tents, which the city has deemed an “obstruction” in the public right-of-way.
As we reported yesterday, Seattle’s rules for removing encampments require the city to provide at least 72 hours’ notice and offers of shelter before removing an encampment, but there is an exemption: If an encampment poses an “obstruction”—that is, if it is located on a sidewalk, in a park, or in any other space used by the public—the city can clear it without notice, and with no offers of shelter or services.
While the City will do its best to offer shelter as available through the City’s HOPE team and the efforts of the RHA, we cannot allow tents and other structures to remain in the right of way if they are causing an obstruction or presenting a public health or safety risk,” Harrell spokesman Jamie Housen said. “It is important to balance the immediate need to ensure safe and equitable access to sidewalks while we work to expand services and strategies to bring more people inside.”
—Paul Kiefer, Erica C. Barnett