On May 14th, Elliott Bay Books, in connection with the Capitol Hill Neighborhood Council, hosted a safety meeting regarding recent spikes in crime in the neighborhood. Egan Orion, executive director of the Capitol Hill Council, helped organize the meeting with local business owners, law enforcement, and city of Seattle planners. Sabrina Bolieu, Business Liaison to Mayor Durkin, stated that there was an additional, more significant safety meeting later that same day concerning citywide safety and crime.
Captain Bryan Grenon helped open the meeting by talking about the annual cycles of crime on Capitol Hill; there has been a consistent data over many years that as summer approaches, nightlife increases and with it, an increase in crime. Several attendees asked about the emphasis patrols rolled out by the Mayor’s Office early this year and why Capitol Hill was not selected. Cpt. Grenon went into detail on how neighborhoods were selected; SPD gathers extensive data on person to person violence and looked for where it was increasing. On Capitol Hill, crime, including violent crime, has held steady for several years, and early this year fell by 4-5%.
On the topic of violent crime, the panel discussed several recent shootings in the area. Nearly all of these violent crimes currently under investigation on Capitol Hill were in some way connected to gang or drug activity, and SPD gang and narcotics units are working together to tackle these issues and are coordinating efforts to prevent violence. Officer Mark Witherbee, part of the Community Police Team, talked about how homeless populations are often caught in this Venn diagram of violence. Cpt. Grenon discussed a recent shooting in the Central District that had 50 witnesses, and no one saw a thing; there is a cultural element curbing effective prevention.
Local business owners had several concerns, including recent Capitol Hill Neighborhood blog posts about a suspected arsonist. For many business owners, a primary issue is homeless individuals forming semi-permanent camps near or in front of businesses. Public safety was also discussed, especially between the hours of one o’clock and three o’clock a.m.. As summer approaches, SPD has been approved funding for additional patrols in the Capitol Hill area. SPD is also working with the rideshares and others to keep main roadways clear for emergency vehicles and crowd control. Lighting in Cal Anderson park was also discussed; the angle of the newly installed lights are an issue for neighboring homes, so the project is currently being re-evaluated by the Mayor’s Navigation Team.
In response to concerns from local business owners that some police calls go unanswered, Captain Grennon emphasized, “Always call. Even if it doesn’t create staff, it shows patterns and allows us to be prepared.”
All three officers present discussed issues with staffing and funding. Although the Mayor’s Office has no official comment at this time, Bolieu was able to say the Mayor is preparing a report on these and other issues, saying “We are now a big city, with big city problems, and the Mayor’s Office is responding.” As part of the discussion on understaffing, Cpt. Grennon talked about difficulties getting recruits into the state academy and not only state training, but also Seattle specific training. Cpt. Grenon stated, “Police are expensive; having enough officers can be a struggle.” However, in response to concerns from local business owners that some police calls go unanswered, he emphasized, “Always call. Even if it doesn’t create staff, it shows patterns and allows us to be prepared.”
Local business owners were concerned not only with the rise in crime as summer approaches, but also perennial issues such as nuisance crime, panhandling, and semipermanent homeless camps near or in front of businesses. Officer Witherbee talked about his familiarity with the area and the homeless population, and the lack of long term solutions. Although everyone in the room agreed the short term solutions aren’t effective, no immediate solutions presented themselves.
Overall the meeting allowed local business owners to connect with law enforcement and city officials, and information from law enforcement creates a much richer picture of crime on Capitol Hill. In closing, Cpt. Grenon said, “Know that my officers do care, and they do what they can. They’re not just here for a paycheck. Always call, 911, our question and comment line, our non-emergency line, or walk in.” Orion, who is currently running for City Council Dist. 3, echoed these sentiments earlier in the meeting, “I can’t think of officers I would rather have in my neighborhood.”