Last week new Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole singled out Mike Washburn as the officer to lead the fight against crime and street disorder downtown. With crime and safety issues a longtime headache for downtown businesses and residents, the acknowledgment by O’Toole was largely welcomed. “We hope the creation of this new position will lead to a concerted effort on addressing the open-air drug dealing and street disorder issues that continue to be very real concerns for our community,” the Downtown Seattle Association said in a statement to Seattle Weekly.
While putting Washburn on the job is a step in the right direction, the problems plaguing downtown can’t be solved by one cop alone. Mayor Ed Murray offered the following assessment of what’s needed:
Make the money count It’s no secret that homelessness and mental illness are major issues downtown, and also no secret that, historically, the City of Seattle has thrown a lot of money at the problem. But it hasn’t always helped. “We know that we have a lot of people on the streets because they are mentally ill and they’re not getting the services they need,” Mayor Ed Murray tells Seattle Weekly. “This city is very generous in money and supplies through its human service department, so we’re going to have to figure out what we do to use that money in a way that actually gets folks the help they need.”
Get it together One common complaint heard from business owners and residents downtown is that cops don’t enforce, and prosecutors don’t prosecute, certain criminal activities. According to the mayor, a clearer plan is needed. “If people are involved in criminal behavior, those folks need to be arrested or cited depending on what the crime is,” he says. “We do not currently have, and we have not had for some time now, a coherent enforcement strategy. . . . We’ve got to work with the civil-libertarian groups to make sure that we are enforcing it in a way that is not trampling people’s right. . . . We have to negotiate what the prosecutor and city attorney need to prosecute those cases where arrests are made.”
Walk the walk While the need to get cops out of their patrol cars and onto the streets is not new, Murray seems dedicated to the idea. “We actually don’t have a strong community policing program in this city,” Murray says, citing a need for more foot and bike cops. Murray goes on to say Seattle police officers need “to understand what is happening on the street, so they can identify people who need help.”
Art Credit: “Money” by Luis Prado and “Footsteps” by Lukasz M. Pogoda from The Noun Project