To better inform the public about crimes being committed in Seattle, the city and the Seattle Police Department released in June an online interactive crime map that details the types of crimes being committed in neighborhoods in and around Seattle. The SPD and the city created the map as part of an effort to raise public awareness of crimes in certain neighborhoods and to facilitate more active cooperation between the SPD and the Seattle community. The map, which can be accessed at http://web5.seattle.gov/mnm/policereports.aspx, indicates the type of crimes being committed in each neighborhood, in addition to reports that show the date of the crime, the location, and a link to a more detailed police report.
The crime report map has special relevance for the International District community, where language and cultural barriers oftentimes result in the under-reporting of crimes. This is one reason the crimes indicated on the map may not be representative of the prevalent crimes in the neighborhood. For example, on July 10, there were a high number of thefts and burglaries in the ID, with only one reported incident of drug dealing. In this area, however, it is generally understood that drug dealing occurs much more frequently than the map would suggest. Why is drug dealing not as represented on the map? The only explanation for this discrepancy is the under-reporting of crimes in the area, which ultimately leads to a poorer deterrence of crime in the ID.
Nic Lee, of the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), elaborates: “Things happen here just like in any other neighborhood, but the majority of crimes are not reported, mostly because of the language barrier . . . that creates a problem because of cultural differences. People don’t feel comfortable enough to call.”
So if the map is not an entirely accurate reflection of the types of crimes in the ID, what exactly are the crimes being committed in the area? This information can be confirmed anecdotally. Most residents will agree that the crimes in the neighborhood are not too different from those in other downtown vicinities. Chinatown International District Business Improvement Area’s (CIDBIA) Bill Lee comments on the types of crimes prevalent in the ID: “There is theft or breaking in. There are the same crimes as other neighborhoods such as prostitution and drug dealing.”
The map’s inaccuracy, at least in terms of representing the major crimes in the ID, is outweighed by the map’s ability to raise awareness of crime in people’s respective neighborhoods. Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell says, “The information is shared on-line so citizens can stay in tune with crime occurrences in their neighborhood. Citizens can use the crime data map to heighten their sense of crime awareness and increase their diligence in reporting crime. Citizens can establish block watch programs and work with their community police officers to even more effectively prevent crime. Citizen involvement and diligence is always a great crime prevention tool.”
A discussion of crime in the ID naturally raises the question of what causes the crime in the first place. Don Blakeney, Executive Director of the CIDBIA, attributes crime in the ID to lack of initiative in engaging the people who commit the crimes. He says, “We don’t engage them. We don’t pay attention to them. We need to have an active part on the street, make it clear not to sell drugs. Violent crime is sporadic.; it’s not out of control. There’s also a snowball effect. We don’t communicate what’s going on. We need to coordinate actions throughout neighborhoods.”
There are several perspectives to consider when thinking of strategies to prevent crime from occurring in the ID. Nic Lee contends that “having police presence definitely helps. Having community involvement also helps. Law enforcement and community need to work together because we can’t do it alone.”
Councilmember Harrell agrees with Lee that more police presence is needed, but also provides some concrete solutions. He says, “Earlier this year, a plan was presented for bicycle officers to split their time between patrolling on bike and foot in the International District, Belltown and Pioneer Square. This police presence will help prevent crime. Currently, Seattle Police are working with community councils and precinct advisory councils to ensure the best deployment of the foot patrols and to monitor the community’s sense of safety on the streets. All of these tools combined will help make our neighborhoods safer.”
As a means of raising awareness of crime in the ID, the crime map is crucial in disseminating information that will lead to crime prevention. Hopefully, with more police officers deployed in the vicinity, and better communication between the community and the SPD, we will be able to prevent the majority of crimes from being committed in the ID.
The map can be accessed at http://web5.seattle.gov/mnm/policereports.aspx