Seattle's Chinatown outlines policing needs

SEATTLE -- The new police chief is drafting customized policing plans for each of the city's neighborhoods, and residents in the International District are getting out in front with their own list of concerns.

Chinatown residents are looking for solutions to ongoing crime problems. Many of them say they are fearful of their own neighborhood, and they hope a safety meeting hosted by the Chinatown International District Business Improvement Area is a way to open the discussions.

"Our residents don't feel safe, our visitors don't feel safe, and that has a negative impact on our businesses," said Ben Grace with the Chinatown ID BIA.

Neighbors say they are fed up with the public drinking, drug dealing and prostitution. They feel many of the problems actually creep in from homeless encampments on the edges of the International District.

"This is called the pit," said Terri Gibbs, pointing to a much-used homeless encampment near where she lives. Gibbs then showed us the walk she makes from her senior housing complex to reach the heart of the ID.

She said her problem is not with the homeless but with the health issues the encampments create. There's no bathrooms, no garbage cans, no running water, and all that refuse just piles up. Gibbs said it makes her nervous in parts of her own neighborhood.

"To walk by myself down to Uwajimaya, I would be very cautious," Gibbs said.

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole attended the safety fair to assure residents that help is at hand.

"I've decided to appoint an (assistant) chief of police to work specifically on the downtown street challenges," O'Toole told the crowd.

The ID has also become part of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, which offers the courts another way to get repeat, non-violent criminals to end their criminal behavior and get help.

"They are not easy to engage with but when you do make progress with those people, you make a difference in the neighborhood," said Lisa Daugaard with the Public Defender Association, one of the agencies involved in LEAD.

Chinatown residents said for starters, more foot patrols would help. They want that direct interaction with officers, as they shape up the specifics of their community policing plan.