The Seattle Police Department reported two separate shootings over the Fourth of July weekend—one in West Seattle and one in Rainier Beach. The shootings are the latest to occur since the city detailed its campaign to address public safety.
Last month, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray conveyed a sense of urgency about developing a comprehensive plan for safer neighborhoods at two events.
Both at his speech before the Seattle City Council and at an ethnic media press conference a few hours later on June 25 at Seattle City Hall, Murray spoke about the city’s public safety crisis.
“We do not, over the recent years, have a developed, coherent, coordinated, city-wide approach to public safety policy. Unless we, as a city, address this crisis of confidence, our challenges in public safety will only grow,” Murray said during his speech.
The mayor called public safety an “unwritten compact” among the city, the people, and the police, “which guides our respective responsibilities in our collective accountability.”
“Instead of responsibility and accountability, our city has seen finger-pointing and blame-shifting,” Murray added.
Among Murray’s proposals to improve public safety and partner for safer neighborhoods, given at the 38-minute ethnic media press conference:
• Programs for young people. By putting the Parks District Funding Plan on the ballot in August, he plans to keep Seattle’s 23 community centers open longer.
“Expanding their hours is important,” Murray said. “During the summer, we’re going to re-prioritize some of the existing city revenue and expand hours in our community centers, expand after-school hours in our libraries for social engagements for teens as well as expand the Teen Youth Program.”
• Working with others on poverty and homelessness, mental illness, and gun violence. “We will also be working with the county and the state, but particularly other local cities to deal with some of the issues of crime, particularly in South Seattle,” Murray said. During his speech, he also said he wants city government to invite Seattle citizens to play a stronger role in public safety.
• Police reform. Murray made it clear that reform is needed and underway following mandates issued by the federal court, including training in “the appropriate use of force,” “a true community policing plan that means that we have officers out of their cars and on foot, getting to know people in the neighborhoods that they patrol, [and] that we use technology to understand patterns of crime and the reporting of crime.” Bicycle patrols are also part of the community policing plan.
“Chief (Kathleen) O’Toole is going to develop this,” he said about Seattle’s first female police chief—confirmed by city councilmembers on Jun. 23.
“This is key. It’s key to change in the dynamic of policing in the City of Seattle,” he told reporters at the press conference. “We’ll make sure that you have the chance to meet her in the next few weeks.”
• Access for senior citizens. He mentioned the parents of his Japanese American husband are in their 90s and moving to Seattle and that their ability to move around safely is more challenging.
“This city is definitely, through its Office of Senior Citizens, exploring what we do around the issue of safety, not just public safety from crime but also physical safety. How do we create an environment where the sidewalks and the places that people walk are physically safe?” he asked.
• Programs for senior citizens. Like programs for young people, education programs and community centers are vital resources to the city’s seniors.
“Expanding community center hours is not just about the youth, it’s also about senior citizens, particularly senior citizens who are poor and have no other place to have activities but in the community centers,” Murray said.
• Diversity in the Seattle Police Department (SPD). Murray appreciates Chief O’Toole’s use of the term “police service” instead of “police force” and emphasizes that diversity in the SPD remains a priority.
Murray said: “We do have Chinese American police officers, and we need to utilize them better in reaching out to younger Chinese Americans in getting them interested in the police force. Finally, the pay is not all that bad, and we need to tell that story as well.”
• Youth employment. Murray said the city’s current program helped provide jobs to about 450 young people in 2013. “We’ve increased that by 50 percent to 1,000 (in 2014), but even that, in my opinion, is not enough, and I have asked a group of business leaders to work with us so that next summer, we can at least double that to 2,000, if not more, jobs for youth.”
Starbucks, Microsoft, and Amazon are just some of the companies invited to participate in the city’s youth employment program.
• Reducing homelessness in the International District. Murray wants to see homeless people get the proper treatment and the proper shelter. They are “the only way we’re going to get them off the street,” Murray said. “Arresting homeless people and putting them in jail is not a policy so we have a lot more to do on the issue of homelessness.”
• Public security cameras in the International District. “Chinatown is one of two neighborhoods, the other is the Central District, that’s actually asked for some level of cameras for policing for public safety,” Murray said. He wants a public discussion to take place among residents of these neighborhoods, the city, and the ACLU and other civil libertarian groups who “are concerned about these cameras,” one that explores ways to use these cameras that don’t invade personal privacy rights.
• Community policing in the International District. Murray would like to see police officers patrol by foot and by bicycle, letting its residents know they are in the community. Murray said: “All of those things are things that we need to implement as well as the police and me or councilmembers doing safety walks from time to time throughout Chinatown and identifying where there are problems (garbage, graffiti, drugs) and identifying those areas so that we can develop a plan to respond to it.”
“And we’re beginning that, we’re beginning that today,” he said.
• Immigrants and refugees. Language barriers continue to be a problem for those who speak English as their second language and who want to report a crime. Murray described a common situation in Seattle: “When someone calls 911, there’s usually a click as they try and get the person to an interpreter, and that click usually, I am told in many cases, is interpreted by the person who doesn’t speak English as they’ve been hung up on.”
He says there needs to be improvements in how the 911 reporting system works and educating immigrants and refugees about this system so they know they are not putting themselves in any danger.
“Secondly, it’s an issue around educating folks that reporting crime actually helps them and helps the community because I realize in many countries where folks come from, reporting a crime to the police is a risky proposition,” Murray said. That risky proposition is the perception by immigrants and refugees that communicating with the city can lead to their deportation.
Murray also said: “I’ve made it clear that this city and our police are not going to be involved in helping the federal government identify people who are here, and our police will not be used to arrest anybody simply because of their legal status. That will not change.”