Strong-armed robberies soar in South Seattle

SEATTLE -- Neighbors hope to get answers to a string of recent crimes around Rainier Valley, which include shootings and strong-armed robberies. The concern is so great that back-to-back safety meetings were scheduled to help alert the public.

"All you hear is police cars up and down, all night and all day," said Anthony Garrett, who is cautious about where he walks in Rainier Beach.

"I'll go the back way," Garrett said. "I don't like coming down the main way to the library because it's a lot of elements I don't like to deal with myself."

Seattle police are investigating several recent shootings throughout the south precinct. They say Rainier Beach is seeing a 20-percent increase in street fights and muggings. The victims are often elderly.

"We asked people to offer to walk elderly people to and from the store because they've been targets lately," said Pat Murakami with the South Seattle Crime Prevention Council, which hosted one of the two public meetings.

Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell led the first discussion, focusing on the city's response to what many perceive as a soaring crime problem.

"We have to really concern ourselves with the perception because we've had some recent shootings, and we've had some acts of violence out on the south end," Harrell said.

The councilmember is reviewing police staffing levels to make sure the worst hot spots see regular patrols, but he also wants to extend the LEAD program to the area, or Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, which offers treatment instead of incarcertation.

"What we're trying to do is have a stronger presence there with not just hard uniformed officers, but community police teams, social service advocates. And we're trying a softer approach," he said.

Police are also pushing an education campaign for Metro riders, urging them to put their jewelery and electronic devices away while on the bus so thieves don't single them out.

Officers say the best thing the public can do is to report crime, even if it doesn't seem like the police can help. Murakami says it's the first step toward making our community safer.

"The neighbors coming to our meeting and telling the captain and the other officers where the problem is makes a huge difference," she said.