Three city council members—council president Sally Clark, public-safety chair Bruce Harrell, and council member Tim Burgess—signed a post on Burgess' blog today blasting Mayor Mike McGinn for ignoring what they call the "reality" of increased crime downtown. (McGinn has pointed to a 9 percent decline in all crimes in the West Precinct overall—an area that, in addition to downtown, also includes residential areas like Magnolia and industrial areas like SoDo—as evidence that crime downtown is decreasing.)
Citing both today's Seattle Times story disputing McGinn's numbers and the Seattle Police Department's own statistics confirming that violent crime has increased slightly in both the West Precinct overall and in the five patrol beats that make up downtown, the council members accuse the mayor of trying to pretend the problem doesn't exist.
Like McGinn's claim that crime is down, though, the Times' story line requires some cherrypicking. By omitting one of the five downtown patrol beats from the data, by comparing just the first seven months of this year to the first seven months of last year instead of looking at trends over time, and by excluding property crimes from the equation, the Times concludes that violent crime has increased downtown by 7 percent. SPD's number, which compares violent crime in all five precincts between 2012 and 2013, is probably more accurate; it shows a 1.5 percent increase in violent crime downtown.
But, as the council members note, the statistics aren't really the point. Whether crime has increased 7 percent, 1.5 percent, or some other number depending on how you define "crime" and "downtown," the fact is that people perceive downtown as less safe than it used to be, and they want the city to respond to their concerns. McGinn, the council members write, shouldn't dismiss those concerns.
When communities are concerned about safety, it is not helpful to opine that certain levels of crime and disorder should be expected in an urban environment. The notion that we must tolerate some level of crime is misguided. Whatever steps we take moving forward, we must start from the premise that crime on our streets can always be prevented or reduced.
Similarly, citing citywide or precinct-wide crime statistics to set a broader context can sometimes be appropriate, but delivering this message in response to voiced concerns unhelpfully suggests that those concerns are invalid or unjustified. Further, reported crime statistics don’t tell the whole story because they usually only include the seven most serious crimes and not other less serious but more visible offenses. ...
Instead, the Mayor and police officials should acknowledge the problem and recognize the harm caused by persistent crime and disorder, then work on effective solutions.
The council members go on to suggest that the mayor direct SPD to focus on the specific individuals who are creating the most trouble downtown; that he direct police response to the blocks where crime is most concentrated; and that he give officers "clear, consistent direction" instead of promoting a "hands-off approach" to policing—code for putting more emphasis on social services than on arresting criminals.
McGinn is holding a press conference this afternoon to announce "additional violence prevention resources" from the city.