1. Seattle City Councilmember Sara Nelson, who owns Fremont Brewing with her husband, invited 11 business representatives to discuss their public safety concerns at her economic development committee on Wednesday. Nelson’s committee doesn’t deal with crime or homelessness and isn’t considering legislation; instead, the meeting served as a kind of open mic for business owners to trade alarming anecdotes and agree that the ultimate solution is more police.
Nelson teed up the conversation by saying Seattle is in a state of “crisis,” one that will require swift action by Mayor Bruce Harrell and City Attorney Ann Davison, who she hoped will “really put some things in place that can make a difference right now.” Last week, Harrell announced a new “hot spot” policing effort targeting high-crime areas; Davison announced she would dramatically expedite charging decisions for misdemeanors in an effort to move cases more quickly through her office.
“These issues that we’re hearing about, they are escalating,” Nelson said. “They’re intensifying, becoming more brazenly disruptive to businesses and dangerous to staff and customers. … Even having more officers on the street won’t cut it, because even before there was such a staffing shortage, there still did not seem to be enough to start addressing rising crime well before the pandemic hit.”
The panel included business owners from every council district except District 5, whose council representative, Debora Juarez, said she no longer goes to Pike Place Market downtown “unless it’s Saturday in broad daylight” because of the “safety issue[s]” there. Pike Place Market (which closes at 6) remains one of the few areas downtown that is consistently bustling and full of people—the antithesis of a high-crime area.
To a person, the panel blamed rising crime and a challenging business climate not on the global pandemic, which has decimated business districts worldwide and led to rising crime and poverty in every American city, but on the fact that there are not more visible police in Seattle’s neighborhoods.
Calls for more police (and prosecution) are standard fare when crime ticks up, but Seattle’s experience with ramped-up policing efforts—from the Stay Out of Drug Areas zones of the mid-2000s to the Nine and a Half Block Strategy of 2015—has demonstrated repeatedly that police crackdowns alone don’t reduce crime. Downtown, in particular, is less populated during the day because so many people continue to work from home; without daytime commuters as customers, it’s hard to keep a business open, and criminal activity thrives in depopulated spaces.
Even if crime could be solved (as opposed to merely shifted) by flooding the streets with cops, Seattle is struggling to hire and retain officers and has fewer officers that it did in 1970.
2. The federal monitor overseeing reforms to the Seattle Police Department released a report on Monday detailing ongoing disparities in who Seattle police officers stop and frisk, though the monitor, Dr. Antonio Oftelie, stopped short of blaming the disparities on officers’ racial biases. Since SPD began gathering data on the race of the people officers stop, frisk, and detain in 2015, the racial disparities revealed by that data have not changed much: police are more likely to stop Native American and Black people than white people. Although officers frisk white people less than any other race, they are more likely to find a weapon when frisking a white person.
In his new report, Oftelie argued that while the persistent disparities are “concerning” and contribute to public distrust of the department, the demographic data does not “prove bias by individual police officers or agencies—as they operate within the context of social factors that may contribute to disparities.”
Oftelie’s report also noted that SPD stopped fewer people in 2021 than in any other year since the department began gathering data on stops in 2015. Last year, officers stopped 4,282 people: 30 percent fewer people than in 2020, and more than 50 percent fewer than the department’s recorded high in 2018.
The sharp reduction in the number of stops reflects a combination of changes, including SPD’s shrinking ranks, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and new state laws setting stricter standards for when police can use force—including, some officers argue, grabbing someone’s arm to prevent them from walking away from a stop. In 2020, more than half of SPD’s stops did not end in an arrest or citation; Native American people were the most likely to be arrested after being stopped by police.
3. One block away from the spot where someone placed fake “no camping” and no-parking signs last year, another set of alarming fake signs has cropped up. The new signs, which are designed to look like the city’s official encampment removal notices, warn encampment residents that they must “REMOVE ALL PERSONAL PROPERTY” by 9:00am on February 9; if they haven’t left by then, the sign continues, “THE CITY WILL BE NOTIFIED AND ALL REMAINING ITEMS WILL BE REMOVED.” Unlike official notices, the signs don’t have a city seal and are laminated and attached to stakes in the ground.
A spokesman for the city confirmed that the signs were not official city notices and “there are no plans to remove the encampments at the locations listed in the notices tomorrow.” The spokesman did not know who had posted the signs.
The city’s official encampment removal schedule called for at least three other “priority site” removals this week: Prefontaine Place in Pioneer Square; Third and Yesler; and N 46th Street and Greenlake Way.
4. The Seattle Fire Department debuted a new feature of its emergency dispatch center on Tuesday afternoon: A team of nurses will join the center’s staff to field calls from people with lower-acuity medical needs, which SFD Chief Harold Scoggins says will free up dispatchers, paramedics and ambulances to focus on the most serious medical emergencies.
Scoggins said the new Nurse Navigation Program—a partnership with one of the city’s ambulance providers, American Medical Rescue—will initially take between 8,000 and 10,000 of the roughly 160,000 calls the fire department receives each year. “In many cases, this will help to divert 911 callers with non-emergency issues away from an ambulance transport to a hospital’s emergency department, and connect patients instead towards self-treatment, Urgent Care or a Telehealth appointment,” he said.
AMR paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines to Seattle in 2016 for not meeting the city’s response time requirements.
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