While the start of Kathleen O’Toole’s tenure as Seattle’s Chief of Police has focused primarily on the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation of the department’s use of excessive force, a recent series of crimes across the Capitol Hill area has left some residents wondering what steps can be taken to stem the tide of muggings and assaults seen in Seattle’s densest neighborhood.
Over the last month, incidents have included a number of business burglaries during the week of the 13th, a purse snatching on 19th and Thomas on June 20th, a mugging at 19th and John on June 24th, a gun-point robbery near Cal Anderson on the same day, a street robbery in the Pike/Pine corridor at Harvard on June 27th, and a burglary attempt in a North Capitol Hill home on July 1st.
The recent uptick in muggings and assaults mirrors a similar pattern of increased crime seen during last summer, which prompted former mayor Mike McGinn to increase patrols in the area and leave the lights on in Cal Anderson during nighttime hours. According to East Precinct Advisory Council (EastPAC) President Stephanie Tschida , a large component of the recent increase in crime on Capitol Hill during the summer months comes down to the East Precinct lacking the manpower to effectively patrol Capitol Hill as the area’s density increases.
“One thing that we hear a lot in the East Precinct is that we’re understaffed,” said Tschida. “Density in the area has rose dramatically, and they’re not necessarily increasing staff. We need more things like bicycle patrols, that are very effective in street crime. It’s on the community to request more police officers to meet the increase in density.”
Mayor Ed Murray, who heavily criticized McGinn’s response to crime throughout the city during last year’s campaign, spoke on the issue of public safety following O’Toole’s swearing-in ceremony. Murray introduced his public safety agenda under the name Compact for a Safe Seattle, which aims to raise awareness on preventative measures and increase involvement between community members and the police force.
“A Compact for a Safe Seattle that recognizes public safety is not something provided to the community by the government,” said Murray. “Rather, public safety is something achieved when the City, the people and the police commit to an urgent, collective effort stronger than the sum of its individual parts.”
Murray’s sentiments regarding the individual’s contribution to a safer Seattle was echoed by those who emphasized that the best way to help stop the recent crime wave was for residents to become more vigilant and aware in their everyday lives.
“The police are aware that this is happening in the early-morning and late night, and I would say at this point of time that prevention is safety measures the individual can take,” said Tschida. “Be aware of your surroundings, walk confidently, and have someone with you. Don’t have your cell phones out or your earbuds in when you’re walking around.”
Additionally, both Murray and Tschida have posited that community based activities, events, and programs that provide positive interactions for area youths is an essential step in preventing youth involvement in crime. At the same press conference, Murray introduced the “Summer of Safety,” which aims to extend the hours of parks and youth centers while introducing new programming, as well as offering new youth employment opportunities during the summer.
However, Tschida also noted that with every new administration comes a new favorite solution to the continuing issue of crime in the area, and that if these programs are to succeed, these programs must be held accountable to achieving their goals.
“The budget for grassroots non-profits for [youth prevention programs] started going south in the early 2000’s, and then the city will come up with a new initiative and fund that,” said Tschida, who previously worked in crime prevention programs for youths.
“With every mayor, it changes. My take on it is that we need to have more rigorous evaluation of these programs. There’s a whole ton of programs that seem to get all of the funding, and a few years ago Tim Burgess asked for these agencies to give outcome data, and if they don’t meet their goals they would get defunded, and I don’t know what happened to that. It’s very frustrating, and now we’re dealing with the consequences. If the city was serious about funding these programs, we’d be seeing a lot better community.”