Hi there folks. The following is a recap from my notes from last night’s Belltown Safety forum. I’m sure you’ll find really good coverage of the event in other blogs and news sites, but we here at Belltown People hope to be a part of helping those who live and work in Belltown engage their community by providing information and an opportunity to dialog with your neighbors. I guess that’s what a neighborhood blog does, right? Hopefully 24 hours isn’t horrible turnaround time. It turns out I have to go to work sometimes.
There were three main parts to this meeting: Police, Prosecution, and the Justice System. I am on a time constraint right now, so I’m going to jot down what the police had to say and I’ll tackle the rest later tonight.
Belltown Citizens On Patrol and the Labor Temple hosted a forum for public officials and Belltown neighbors to get together to talk about safety. If you have been to any of the Bell Street Park meetings or any BCC meeting, this is generally a popular topic. BCOP generally tries to host these forums at least once a year, but it seemed to be a good idea to hold one now in light of recent events. Sure enough, the place was packed. I’ll try to get pictures up another time, but all seats were filled and there were lots of people standing in the back of the Labor Temple hall. The media also showed up in pretty significant force and was a palpable presence in the room.
Brett Paulson, co-founder of BCOP, moderated the forum and opened the night’s session. The forum is an opportunity to get the public engaged and give them a chance to dialog with public officials involved in law enforcement and safety. Brett made it clear that the neighborhood needs to get involved the community and with their public officials in order to effect the kind of change we so passionately cry for in any public meeting I’ve been to.
Thomas Acker from the Safer Streets of South Seattle came to speak first. Thomas represented a success story and hopefully some encouragement for our community that it is entirely possible for a group of passionate citizens to create change in a neighborhood. South Seattle had many of the same problems we see here in Belltown. He shared with us the parts of the plan created for his project that we could consider as well:
- Problem Identification
If public officials aren’t taking notice of the issues of a community, it is helpful to make them notice using data and information. The Seattle Police Department maintains a large database of various incidents and reports that can be used to generate compelling statistics and reports. If we use enough of this, we can really show that their is a problem worth doing something about. As an engineer/nerd type, I’m always in favor of using empirical evidence to make a claim, so this seems like a good idea to me. He also suggested using the Customer Service Bureau (684-CITY) to report incidents and track complaints. Moreover, we can leverage that resource to create reports and make public disclosure requests.
- Identify Neighborhood Stakeholders
Thomas created a project team made up of key people invested in the neighborhood. This includes business owners, residents, and other people that will care about the neighborhood and support a project.
- Set Goals and Target Areas
- Establish a Focus
- Set Performance Level Agreements
- Hold People Accountable
This is a good time for us to leverage the momentum created by recent movements and really stick to any initiatives that come out of it.
He also suggested we work with the prosecutor’s office more and help our officials do their jobs. We have access to report templates, and we can provide information that is useful to closing cases and enforcing existing laws. We could also consider letter writing campaigns and make sure we are following up with prosecutions to make sure things don’t die in proces.
Finally, if we can’t get the city to help, we can also turn to the media. Thomas suggested they are a community advocate and we can engage them as well to keep momentum going.
Seattle Police Department Assistant Chief Mike Sanford and Interim Chief John Diaz also showed up for what seemed to be surprise appearances. Interim Chief Diaz spoke first. He shared that they wanted to show up to talk about the recent shootings and relate what immediate changes SPD is making in response.
His solution to effecting change was a combination of community support, police action, and government involvement. In the recent incidents, Seattle police officers were able to make quick arrests and the community’s involvement had a role to play in that.
We should see change from SPD as soon as this weekend. There will be units reprioritized to deal with the weekend night life problems, and we can expect to see at least 20 officers in our corridor on Friday and Saturday. This is a city-wide effort that hopefully makes a difference in Belltown.
Sanford spoke to outline the plan:
- Officers will be deployed to the neighborhood program to be right were the problems occur
- Seattle SWAT, crime teams, and DUI officers will be reassigned to handle problems as they spill out of the bars in each precinct
- They will work to anticipate where the biggest crowds will be on a given night and make sure somebody is there
The West Precinct Commander–I apologize I didn’t get his name down in time…nearly all members from the police force spoke very quickly and directly! (which I kind of like)–to outline the priorities of the police force for our neighborhoods.
- Help ‘wake the city up’ in the mornings to get businesses open and get people out and where they are supposed to be. This means enforcing no trespassing rules and making sure their are no encumbrances as we walk about Belltown and to our places of work.
- Deal with the open-air drug market. Work with prosecutors to target dealers and combat the drug problem.
- Nightlife management. On this issue, they are working on new tactics to increase visibility, work with the supply side of the issues (*cough cough* crappy bars and clubs *cough cough*), and work with the community to mitigate the problem.
For the community, he suggested we talk to council members to let them know what we think about our neighborhood. They also want to provide a professional and courteous level of service. He reminded us that the people they deal with at night are generally a different animal that is not generally interested in being nice or cooperating with police. We can support our police force by being witnesses, supplying data, and going on night walks.
Finally, we can engage our justice system to talk about the community and make our concerns known.
Sgt. Thomas Yoon spoke to us about his work in the Anti Crime unit. He leads a team of 8 to deal with drug problems and impact crime in our streets. They use a combination of uniformed and undercover officers to get to know what the dealers are doing and how to make arrests that can be taken care of by the prosecutor’s office.