Night Out takes crime awareness downtown
National Night Out Against Crime is a block-party tradition in many neighborhoods around the Puget Sound area, but Seattle police made a special effort Tuesday to rally the city's growing number of downtown residents.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Taking over a small street or park for a block-party barbecue has been a tradition in countless neighborhoods around the Puget Sound area since the National Night Out Against Crime began nearly three decades ago.
Organizers of Tuesday night's event for residents of busy downtown Seattle — where shutting down a street or park takes a little more effort — are hoping that downtown has finally joined in the tradition in a big way.
Small Night Out events have been organized in downtown before, but never a large consistent one, despite the area's burgeoning residential growth, said Sean Whitcomb, a Seattle police spokesman.
"This is the first of what we hope to be a downtown event for all the people living in high-rise condos and apartments to encourage people to meet their neighbors," said Whitcomb. "It's not that you can't meet your neighbors in those buildings, but it is a little harder to have that let's-have-a-barbecue feel."
According to the Downtown Seattle Association, downtown's population has more than doubled, to 60,000 residents, since 1990.
Not surprisingly, the event — which offered free drinks and hot dogs at a popular park on a warm summer day — also drew many tourists. Officers on horseback mingled with the crowds, and a police dog named Ziva drew the attention of many children.
Mounted Officer Mark Wubbena, who has patrolled downtown for 29 years, said even without Night Out events, the increasing numbers of watchful downtown residents have helped reduce crime in general.
"It's gotten a lot better out here," Wubbena said.
He said residents still need to learn more about how to report crime to the Police Department and to keep one another informed about criminal activity. Some, for example, don't know they can report crime by calling 911 even if it doesn't seem like an emergency.
A spike in Seattle homicides this year has made efforts to fight crime and help victims especially important to people. The year's 22 homicides — two more than in all of 2011 — happened downtown and in neighborhoods all over the city.
Other cities around the region also took part in Tuesday's Night Out — with nearly 1,400 groups in Seattle alone signing up to hold block parties, according to Whitcomb. While some parties, like downtown's, are large, others are small, such as the one Whitcomb used to participate in.
"I lived on a small street, and it would literally be 10 of us on our own cul-de-sac," Whitcomb said.
The National Night Out Against Crime is organized by a group called the National Association of Town Watch. Last year, more than 37 million people from 15,000 neighborhoods in the United States and Canada, including some on military bases, participated, according to the association's website.
Material from Seattle Times archives was included in this report.
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.