Facing a Rash of Crime and a Lack of Cops, Capitol Hill Gets Tough

Twenty years ago a citizens’ foot patrol helped quell hate crimes in the neighborhood. Organizers of a new group hope they can do the same.

Jennifer Dietrich’s business, Dr. Jen’s House of Beauty, is the last place you would expect a martial-arts-trained street patrol to be forming.

Dietrich, a pinup-styled cosmetician, has decorated her dreamlike salon with generous swashes of pink, a whimsical LED lace-doily tree full of fuchsia flowers, and a chandelier. Cheery dance music wafts from the speakers as she talks with her co-workers about their love interests and mixes pigments for her handmade makeup, wearing a lab coat with pink leopard-print trim.

She was doing something similar the day before I sat down to talk to her last week, when she heard a loud thud.

“We look outside, and there’s this guy who has just been knocked to the ground,” Dietrich says. “I went outside and was helping the guy up, and asked ‘What the hell is happening?’ He goes, ‘These guys just punched me in the face, I don’t even know who they are.’  They were complete strangers. It was right in the middle of the day, right in front of 10 or so people, and right by an open window. I’ve just had enough.”

Hers is not an idle complaint. For a month now Dietrich has been organizing what she’s calling “Outwatch”: a citizen-run volunteer patrol group that will provide a visual anti-violence presence on Capitol Hill. The group, a response to a recent rash of attacks and crimes in the neighborhood, will hit the streets for the first time this weekend.

The flashpoint for the group’s creation came last month when Dietrich heard about two incidents that had occurred on the same weekend—the attack of Ade Connere, a drag performer who was jumped by two young men on the way home from Pony, a gay bar; and the rape of a young woman near Hot Mama’s pizza, just blocks away from Dietrich’s business. The victim had left the pizza shop simply searching for a restroom. Dietrich herself was jumped months ago after parking her car up the street, when a man grabbed her and attempted to steal her purse. She broke free, ran down the street, and locked herself in her store.

“I had heard enough from my friends about getting harassed on the street and getting called a ‘faggot,’ ” Dietrich says. “I’d heard enough about people getting attacked. I was just tired of it.”

Dietrich joined a Facebook group called “Take Back the Hill” where she first read a post about Q Patrol, a former LGBTQ watch group formed in 1991 that patrolled Capitol Hill dressed in black berets in an attempt to deter gay-bashing. Time proved the group’s efforts were warranted—in 1996, The Seattle Times reported that “hate crimes plummeted citywide, from 132 to 41, and violent crime fell 41 percent on Capitol Hill” from 1993 to 1996, a period that marked the height of the group’s activity in the neighborhood.

Dietrich lit up when she heard about the group. “I didn’t know much about Q Patrol beyond the name and the idea, but that’s all I needed to hear to be like, ‘Let’s do that.’ ”

Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Dietrich’s group of volunteers will roam the hill in four-person patrols. At least two will be self-defense trainers or have received self-defense training in the past six months. Dietrich hopes to have at least a dozen people out per patrol, running in two shifts from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. and 1:30 to 4 a.m. The group won’t be out to “crack skulls,” as Dietrich explains.

“We will diligently report every incident we see to the police, because that helps them with their patrols. I am very adamant about that. If we come in contact with a fight, we will break that fight up and call the police. We just want to be a presence.”

Volunteers for Outwatch will receive free self-defense training from Mac Scotty McGregor, a transman and a former member of the U.S. karate team with 43 years of martial-arts experience who also happens to be a member of the city’s LGBT Commission. Seven Star Women’s Kung Fu is also offering free training for anyone looking to get involved.

“Any time we can expand that dialogue about personal safety and community safety, just being aware of your surroundings and creating a safe city, we want to facilitate that,” says Gina Kurtz, an instructor at Seven Star. “We don’t see Outwatch as a vigilante group; it’s just eyes on the street. We deserve to live in a safe environment.”

Even SPD acknowledges we could use some more eyes on the street. None of the officers contacted for this story were aware of Outwatch’s existence, but East Precinct officer Don Bolton illustrated the dearth of patrols on Capitol Hill.

“We used to have 18 to 22 officers per squad,” Bolton says, pointing to a picture on the wall of a grinning group of officers posing for a portrait circa 1990. “Now we have this many.”

Bolton holds up his current patrol sheet. I count six officers.

“You do the math on that one.”

Bolton says none of the officers are on foot patrol at night, many working non-street positions. “It’s hard. You’ve got officers in squad cars, and sometimes we get bike patrols, but they say the faster you’re moving, the more you miss.”


To volunteer for Outwatch, contact outwatchpatrol@gmail.com.

comments powered by Disqus