Business leaders call on city to curb downtown violence

SEATTLE -- On June 28, the president of the Seattle Hotel Association was on his way to a morning meeting when he was punched in the back and shoved to the ground near Third Avenue and Pike Street.

That is one of eight violent crimes cited by the Downtown Seattle Association in a July 31 letter to Mayor Mike McGinn and the Seattle City Council as an example of the unacceptable levels of crime plaguing the city's core.

"The frequency of this type of street violence in downtown's most visible and traveled public spaces demands immediate new enforcement resources and strategies from the city," the letter states.

In the letter signed by Argosy, Nordstrom, Seattle Central Community College, a handful of hotels and more, the Downtown Seattle Association calls for new policing strategies, more foot and bike patrol officers and full-time park rangers for Westlake, Occidental and Victor Steinbrueck parks.

The association points to the declining number of police officers employed by the city over the past 13 years as one reason for downtown's violent-crime problem. Its letter calls for an immediate increase in patrols to remain in place indefinitely at key locations in the neighborhood.

"The violent incidents...occurred during the day and early evening, many in broad daylight, despite recent implementation of hot-spot policing tactics," the letter states. "Clearly the perpetrators are not deterred by the current SPD staffing levels or strategies."

But, according to Seattle Police Department statistics, its strategies are working.

According to police, major crimes in the West Precinct, which includes downtown as well as Magnolia and Queen Anne, were down 15 percent between May 2012 and May 2013, tied for the biggest decline in the city. And, park rangers began patrolling Occidental Park, as well as Capitol Hill's Cal Anderson Park, this month.

In his response to the Downtown Seattle Association's mayoral candidate questionnaire, McGinn points to the West Precinct's new data-driven strategy as the reason 911 calls to high-crime areas dropped by 32 percent in Belltown, 43 percent in the central business district, 10 percent in Pioneer Square and 47 percent in Chinatown/International District during the program's first six months.

In the questionnaire, McGinn also touted his Center City Initiative, which brings law enforcement, businesses and service groups together to tackle public-safety issues in downtown.

In its letter, the Downtown Seattle Association acknowledges the drop in 911 calls and its participation in the Center City Initiative but states the level of crime remains unacceptable and something needs to be done immediately.

It suggests reinvesting growing revenues from downtown businesses into the additional law-enforcement necessary to curb the violence.