Seattle now has a worse crime rate than New York City. That stunning fact is delivered in a wake-up-call of an essay released this week by City Council member Tim Burgess as he steps down from the chairmanship of the council's public-safety committee.
What does this mean? It's not that Seattle's crime rate is out of control. City-wide, major crime is way down from what it was a decade or two ago.
But New York has slashed its crime rate even more--by 80 percent since 1991--and Burgess wants us to replicate some of the Big Apple's crime fighting methods.
For one thing, he says, New York uses a sophisticated crime analysis method to track exactly where and when crime occurs. He's referring to the famous "Compstat" system which The New York Times once called the "gospel of policing by data." SPD's comparative inadequacy in this regard was reinforced by another report put out yesterday by the City Auditor.
In Burgess' view, the "where" aspect of crime data is particularly important. The city council member points out that although crime as a whole has dropped in Seattle--a phenomenon often trotted out by numerous police and city officials--it has has increased in certain hotspots. "Why do I hear every week about problems in Belltown, at Martin Luther King and Othello and Rainier and Henderson?" Burgess asks in an interview yesterday with Seattle Weekly.
As we noted last week, the city is now using Belltown as a model for how to fight crime, but the area's problems are far from over.
Burgess' solution is what he calls "a new philosophy of policing" that focuses not only on hot spots but on persistent offenders in those neighborhoods.
You can read Burgess' manifesto as highly critical of SPD, and indeed talking with SW, he portrays police and city officials as too complacent about low-level but corrosive street crime. (You can also read his white paper as a jump start on running for mayor, although he insists to SW that he has made no decision to do so.)
But SPD, too, seems to be making a stab at some of these same ideas. In a conversation about Belltown last week, West Precinct Captain Joe Kessler talked about a list of that neighborhood's persistent offenders--he called them "frequent fliers"--that his officers have been compiling. There are now 74 people on the list, who have been stopped or arrested by police a cumulative 4,500 times over the years.
It's what police intend to do with this list that seems hazy. "I'm not sure what the answer is," Kessler said, although police are working on a new program that funnels some of Belltown's chronic drug offenders and prostitutes into treatment programs.
Burgess says that's not enough. He wants police and prosecutors to jointly narrow down the list to the worst of the worst, and develop a strategy for each one of them--one that would include not just treatment but, if necessary, a way to get them behind bars for a significant length of time.