Natalie Hutson started working as Community Safety Coordinator with the Chinatown International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA) in March 2023.
When people in the neighborhood see safety issues they want addressed, Hutson can serve as a connector to the City and other resources, including homelessness outreach organizations such as REACH and LEAD. She also tracks public safety incidents that don’t get reported to the police, whether because people don’t believe they will get a prompt response, distrust the police, or don’t speak English fluently.
“They can report to me and I keep track of those things, and that can help inform and just provide evidence for the Public Safety Council as they’re doing advocacy efforts and working for policy change,” Hutson said.
Hutson also facilitates monthly, online Community Safety Forums, where community members can ask questions and hear updates from CID organizations and the Seattle Police Department on public safety issues and trends.
And for neighborhood residents who want to learn about personal safety and de-escalation training, Hutson can point them in the right direction.
The role of a neighborhood public safety coordinator was created after the 2015 murder of neighborhood champion Donnie Chin, and the subsequent concerted effort from the community to address longstanding public safety challenges. The first public safety coordinator, Sonny Nguyen, served in the role from spring 2017 to 2019.
Hutson grew up in Seattle. She has a BA degree in Sociology from Seattle University, where she completed an honors thesis on public safety and abolitionism, structured around Black women community organizers working in the criminal justice system and the healthcare industrial complex.
Hutson was drawn to working in the CID because of its complexity and variety of community perspectives. She knows everyone in the CID wants to feel safer and have their needs met. Her challenge is helping the neighborhood achieve this.
Hutson’s role is now funded by a Department of Neighborhoods allocation and contracted through CIDBIA. It was formerly contracted with the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority.
In her first months on the job, Hutson has been meeting people and doing outreach in the CID.
She believes one of the neighborhood’s biggest public safety challenges are around 12th and Jackson in Little Saigon, which has a history of drug sales, drug use, and violent crime. In the last year, the area has been a target of police emphasis patrols and other efforts from Mayor Harrell’s administration, but challenges remain.
“I think there’s trickling effects of that being a problematic area, in terms of increased incidences of violence, and things like that,” Hutson said. “I’m kind of coming in at a precipice of a new change after a lot of those positive efforts and solutions have been put in place. So I would say I’m still learning about sort of where people’s biggest concerns are.”
Homelessness has been a constant concern in the CID. When community members protested a planned King County shelter expansion at the edge of the neighborhood in fall 2022, many connected the presence of homeless people to a rise in crime or an unsafe environment. For Hutson, the issue is complicated. “I think it’s common to see people conflate the two, you know, have this image of unhoused folks as being the ones enacting crime,” she said. But people living outdoors are “often victimized by crime, because they are such a vulnerable population. And they are taking advantage of in many ways.”
Monisha Singh, executive director of the CIDBIA, noted that crime sometimes occurs within encampments, even if homeless people aren’t the perpetrators. “We know that oftentimes, the unhoused are the first victims, so these criminal rings are within the encampment itself, and then it spills out into the business district,” she said.
Changing people’s thinking about this issue is one of Hutson’s goals.
“[Homeless people are] not always seen as being a part of the community, but they really are. They’re still residents of this neighborhood, and they’re still deserving of having their needs met around public safety, and being included in that conversation,” she said. “I think when you increase safety for those folks, you’re increasing safety for everyone.”
For Singh, the end of the COVID-19 emergency gives the neighborhood an opportunity to strategically rethink addressing public safety. “How do we have people, businesses, residents, customers feel safe enough to come and patronize our businesses?” Singh asked.
Singh notes that the whole city is dealing with public safety challenges, and even though the CID has its unique challenges, “there needs to be larger scale ways to address these issues, and larger policy-level changes within our local government that needs to be able to solve those issues from the top down.”
From her vantage point in the CID, Hutson looks forward to engaging with the community on the job. “I’m really looking forward to being a part of increasing safety in the CID,” she said. “And sort of helping move the neighborhood into a post pandemic reality and what that means in terms of safety for all the community members here.”