Church holds forum to address downtown Seattle violence

SEATTLE -- A local church is holding a spotlight on the problems of street disorder and homelessness by inviting city leaders to openly discuss what's being done.

A lunchtime forum hosted by First United Methodist Church looked at the balance struck between police enforcement and social outreach, and looked for answers about why things seem to be getting worse.

Rev. Sandy Brown says the church maintains a 60-bed shelter, and allows the overflow to sleep on the front porch. He says those people are reporting more problems, such as public urination and late-night disruptions, but the people complaining feel like no one listens.

"They describe to us it's hard to get the police to respond," the pastor said.

The shooting of a Metro bus driver this summer and a deadly stabbing outside CenturyLink in September both involved suspects believed to be mentally ill. Then there was the shooting at Union Gospel Mission in Pioneer Square last week, which only added to the sense of urgency.

People at the forum complained they don't see police taking action. Others said if officers do step in, prosecutors don't always follow through with charges, a point Interim Police Chief Jim Pugel also mentioned.

"We have to have police officers that take action and we have to have prosecutors and judges that hold these people accountable," Pugel said.

The chief says they are putting officers in downtown hot spots, but Seattle can't arrest its way out of the issue. Now he and City Attorney Pete Holmes are looking for a middle ground.

"We can have a safe, effective police department, and we do not need to tolerate the kinds of social disorder, civil disorder that we have seen on our downtown streets," Holmes told the crowd.

City leaders wrapped up the forum saying there are no quick fixes, and it will take the entire community working together to make changes.