City leaders didn't offer a lot of solutions at this week's press conference on the sweep of homicides that Mayor Mike McGinn declared a "public safety emergency." But City Councilmember Bruce Harrell had one, which he labeled "Pat Murakami's idea on steroids," leaving some undoubtedly to wonder: Who's Murakami and what's her idea?
Actually, Murakami tells SW, the idea was that of John Hayes, the operations lieutenant of the South Precinct, who was responding to community outcry following a string of robberies and assaults that culminated in the beating death of Filipino hairdresser Danny Vega last November.
Hayes' suggestion aside, Murakami felt that the city was ignoring the South End's growing crime problem. So she seized the moment. She's organized eight walks so far, and many more are planned, including a big one on March 5 at the crime hotspot of Rainier Ave. and Henderson St. (See schedule of walkabouts.)
The idea is not to operate some kind of citizen patrol, a la "superheroes" like Phoenix Jones. Instead, the purpose is somewhat subtler - to show criminals that neighborhood residents are paying attention, to prod police into paying more attention themselves and to educate community members on what they can do to protect themselves. In the process, Murakami says participants have been reporting alleged drug houses, broken street lights and all the other nuisances that create an unsafe environment.
"It is working," Murakami says. Certainly, the walkabouts have gotten attention. Officers always go on the walks and so, on occasion, do politicians. (See Councilmember Sally Bagshaw's glowing depiction of her walk.) Residents, too, are learning to call 911 whenever they see suspicious behavior, not just when they witness a crime, according to Murakami.
Yet despite the endorsement by Harrell, Murakami isn't giving a similar high five to him and other city leaders for their reaction to the recent outbreak of violence. "They didn't address how specifically they're going to help our precinct," she says, a question that she e-mailed to SPD Chief John Diaz and Deputy Chief Nick Metz yesterday.
Of the nine deaths since January, six have been in the South Precinct area, according to Murakaimi. Sporadic walkabouts won't "stop the shootings," she says. "We need more patrol officers."