City Hall

As Council Questions Downtown Policing Plan, Tourist Bureau Launches Photo Campaign Against Street Disorder

By Erica C. Barnett October 4, 2012

Panhandling on the waterfront

City council members criticized Mayor Mike McGinn's efforts to improve public safety downtown yesterday, arguing that the mayor's office hadn't, in council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen's words, provided a dedicated "person in the mayor's office taking the lead on" downtown public safety. Currently, efforts to improve Third Avenue downtown---a particular interest of Rasmussen's---are being headed up by the Department of Planning and Development's Gary Johnson, who also has other job duties. "If he can't do it, maybe we have him to devote more time to it and shed some of his other responsibilities," Rasmussen said.

Council member Tim Burgess added, "Some of the frustration is that Gary's the third or fourth person to have that responsibility in the last few years, and we're not seeing results" in terms of reduced drug traffic and general street disorder downtown. "We have moral obligations to those [on downtown streets] who are suffering with mental health issues and dependency issues, but there's a whole other set of individuals who do not have those problems; they're just profiteering."
McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus says the mayor included a full-time staffer to deal with street disorder downtown in his budget last year, but says the council killed the position. The Seattle Police Department has also increased its focus on downtown crime "hot spots."

Meanwhile, in response to the perceived uptick in street crime, Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau encouraged members to take photos of illegal activity downtown and send them to city council members, staffers, and the mayor's office.

A couple of examples members sent out earlier this week include a woman and man who, according to the downtown business person who distributed it, use the same wheelchair (and signs saying they can't walk) to panhandle on the waterfront (when one of the two finishes their shift, he or she gets up and walks away, and the other one takes over); and an alleged drug deal going down outside the Inn at the Market on First Ave.

"We really need to do more to make sure that the council and other elected officials are aware of what a critical point, from a visitor perspective, thc tity is at," SCVB president Tom Norwalk says. "It's probably never been as bad as it is right now. We hear from a lot of visitors who are surprised---they didn't expect to see what they see in a lot of the main corridors of the city."

Norwalk says his group would like to see more police downtown, and stricter enforcement of the city's "no-sitting" law, which bans people from sitting or lying down on public property, like sidewalks. "It's not unusual to come out and see people lying down all day long at 7th and Pike" outside the convention center, Norwalk says.

And he says the public-nuisance issue should be a factor in the 2013 election, when McGinn is up for a second term (and when Burgess, one of the council members who criticized the mayor's approach to downtown public safety, may run against him). "Going into the next election cycle, we want [candidates] to know that this is a growing problem that we're really trying to address."

Both Rasmussen and his colleague Sally Bagshaw, who was also critical of the mayor yesterday, serve on an interdepartmental "Center City Initiative" team aimed at improving public safety and social services downtown.
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