A Solution to the Downtown Seattle Dilemma!
One old Cop’s suggestion
Several weeks back City Councilman Bruce Harrell convened a meeting to ponder (yet again) the danger and uproar that has plagued downtown precincts. This is the “Annual Public Safety Pow Wow” and this installment produced essentially the same results such convocations have produced for the last twenty years or so.
Such is the level of fear downtown that the local Sheriff publicly announced that his own wife is afraid to visit him at his office in the County Courthouse. Other folks writing to the local media have also express this fear in first-person detail. From SODO to lower Queen Anne, and in many other precincts of the city, fear is an everyday experience for locals and visitors alike.
An old cop visits these areas regularly and the police presence is so minimal it has no perceptible impact. It becomes clear that the few cops on foot patrol need training in the art of community policing, the projection of a very evident police presence and direct interaction with merchants and residents alike. Given the crowd density there is a need for elevated vantage points that the police officers can use intermittently, to see as well as to be seen.
Cops speak of the futility of even marginal efforts to restore order while the Mayor and the City Attorney spar like a couple of sophomores over some year old initiative which is fruitless save for the talk it has produced. Talk is no solution!
Well intended advocates constantly bang the drum for more social and mental health services. There is definitely some need. However, years of that approach alone have clearly been inadequate. The definitive fact of the matter is that only a positive police presence consistently prevents the aggressive behaviors that are so destructive. Let the social services providers compliment the police effort; they certainly can’t replace it!
The police brass offer anecdotes about crime rates in some areas actually going down. However, those statistics do nothing to allay the pervasive and chronic fear downtown that will not go away with police reassurances. For many years citizen concerns have been met with a promise that the City will hire more cops next year…and that is as much hope as anyone leaves the meeting with.
Look again at the police manpower situation. Seattle PD has hundreds more cops than the 500 mentioned. They can be found in detective follow-up units, the traffic division and so called Community Policing Teams (which obviously have little impact on this critical problem) and so on. Fact: the more crime you fail to prevent…the more detectives you need to solve them.
An effective police strategy would change the routine of the non-uniform personnel. They would be assigned to uniform duty one or two days a week. They would be available for regular foot patrol deployment in any troubled areas of the City for as long as needed to re-establish safety and order. They would then be maintained there for a continuing period after the fact to ensure continued good order.
Mobility could be enhanced by with a fleet of electric (golf) carts so foot patrol could shift from, for example, Pioneer Square to China Town in mere minutes. Likewise from Westlake to Steinbreuck Park, or Broadway to Cal Anderson!
This would provide roughly one hundred additional troops for suppressive efforts. With the advent of the remarkable technologies we see today, officers can remain in touch with their colleagues in the follow-up units and be far more available to victims and witnesses if their street assignments are effectively coordinated with the areas they typically investigate.
As a complement to patrol attire, a very distinctive blazer could be utilized as a hallmark for these officers (detectives) in their direct community assignments. This dress option could vary as needed. Both options would enhance community confidence. A day or two of availability of the detectives at the neighborhood coffee shop would be very conducive to improved community relations.
In the confusion surrounding safety issues for many years, the ray of hope has always (and only) been more cops on foot patrol in any troubled area of the City. This plan would lift that hope from a reactive now-and-then to an everyday fact of civic life in the Emerald City we all treasure.
It should no longer be acceptable to prolong this malaise in a beautiful City like ours because of manageable bureaucratic issues. Time to “FIX IT” as the Seattle Times put it in a recent editorial. Long past time…in fact.
Post script: Your writer here is a retired 24 year veteran of the Seattle Police Department and I speak in concert with many other retirees. This entry was first written over a year ago thus some of the references are dated, but the message remains relevant…poignantly so!