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As Downtown Group Requests More Cops, Records Request Shows Rise in Crime Downtown

As the Downtown Seattle Association asks city council members to fund more officers downtown, a PubliCola records request shows a rise in criminal incidents in the neighborhood.

By Erica C. Barnett October 11, 2012

Seattle Police Department records obtained by PubliCola show an uptick in criminal activity downtown, confirming downtown businesses' fears that crime in the neighborhood is getting worse, not better. 

Yesterday, a group of downtown business leaders sent a letter to the city council asking for "new efforts ... to make Downtown Seattle safer, cleaner and more welcoming for everyone," including more foot and bike patrols, a crackdown on aggressive panhandling and drug dealing downtown, improved outreach to  homeless people with mental illness or substance abuse issues, and better management of downtown parks and public spaces.

The letter echoes a campaign by Seattle's Convention and Visitor's Bureau, which I wrote about last week (sorry, links to old content are still being imported for the redesign), encouraging downtown visitors to send photos of illegal activity downtown to the mayor, city council, and other local officials. "We fear the situation in Downtown neighborhoods is getting worse, not better."

"We fear the situation in Downtown neighborhoods is getting worse, not better," says the letter, which was signed by more than 100 people. "Immediate steps are needed to improve the quality of Downtown’s public realm and the real and perceived safety of employees, residents, visitors and those seeking human services in Downtown." 

Seattle Police Department records, which PubliCola obtained through a records request, back this impression up. Although SPD West Precinct Commander Jim Dermody told a Seattle City Council committee in July that 911 calls to Third and Pine had dropped 47 percent this past summer compared to the last three years, and that Belltown overall had seen an even more dramatic (72 percent) decline, overall "events" (including both 911 calls and crimes witnessed by officers) in the part of downtown that includes Belltown and the Third and Pine "hot spot" actually increased between the summer of 2011 and the summer of 2012. 

It's hard to compare the raw data to the stats Dermody cited, both because Dermody's numbers only include 911 calls and because an increase in officers in an area could lead to a decrease in 911 calls, as officers witness more crimes directly instead of responding to calls from citizens. Additionally, council staffers don't have access to the information Dermody was referring to, and SPD has not returned calls seeking that information. 

However, the overall "events" numbers are apples to apples, and they show a clear upward trend in incidents downtown between last summer and this summer. In all three months, year-over-year incidents grew between 2011 and 2012, from a total of 3,826 in the summer of 2011 to 4,192 in summer 2012. (September figures, the most recent numbers available for both years, were also up, with 1,241 incidents in 2012 compared 1,165 in 2011). 

In response to repeated complaints about street disorder and nuisance crimes downtown, SPD has instituted a policy of "directed policing"---putting officers at known crime "hot spots" instead of having them patrol their precinct at random. 

 

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