Violent crime steady downtown for past five years, data show
Downtown business leaders have complained over the past year about the rise in crime and disorder downtown. They’ve called on city officials to take immediate action.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Monday’s shooting of a Metro bus driver came just two weeks after downtown business leaders urged Mayor Mike McGinn and the City Council to address increasing violence and disorder in the city’s busy retail and tourist corridor.
The letter, drafted by the Downtown Seattle Association and signed by more than 40 business and hospitality executives, cited eight violent incidents since June, many in the area around Westlake Park at Fifth Avenue and Pine Street, including assaults on office workers and on the president of the Seattle Hotel Association.
“This level of violence in Downtown is unacceptable. It demands immediate attention and action by the City,” the July 31 letter said.
After a news conference about Monday’s shooting, both McGinn and Seattle Police Department West Precinct Capt. Jim Dermody said they’re seeing a significant reduction of violent crime downtown.
But an analysis by The Seattle Times of crime statistics for the downtown area bounded by James Street, Battery Street and First Hill around Harborview Medical Center and other hospitals shows a steady level of violent crime throughout the past five years.
The area averages about 80 violent incidents a month, with a noticeable spike in summer, the data show.
Police and the mayor also pointed to the Center City Initiative launched in January 2012 in response to concerns about street disorder, drug dealing, public drunkenness, aggressive panhandling and some mentally ill people intimidating visitors, residents and downtown workers.
The initiative brings together law enforcement, social-service providers, city officials, business leaders and others to identify root causes of the crime problem. The city also added patrols in areas of high crime, they said.
“We track the data closely, we take their concerns seriously and we deploy officers to where they’re needed most,” said McGinn.
But other city and business leaders question whether the city is adequately addressing the immediate crime problem.
City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said the council and the Downtown Seattle Association have been calling for action since a 2010 bus-tunnel attack downtown left a teenage girl badly injured.
“The mayor does not seem to have a sense of urgency,” said Rasmussen. “I hear him citing statistics about crime being down. It’s almost like he’s out of touch. I make a point of being down there [around Westlake Park and the retail core] every day, and it’s not getting better.”
A downtown-hotel security guard was shot in September after he tried to apprehend a robber fleeing a jewelry-store holdup at Westlake Mall. The general manager of the Mayflower Hotel, Paul Ishii, said his chief engineer was assaulted recently at Westlake Park on his way to a meeting. Ishii said there have been so many incidents in the area, the staff no longer calls police for minor issues.
“You don’t want to be the person turning away, but you also don’t want to get involved and risk getting hurt. The police are limited in what they can do,” he said.
The owner of an engineering firm at Fifth Avenue and Pike Street said Monday it is moving several blocks south because of crime and safety concerns around Westlake.
“It’s a very scary place to be,” said Jim Coughlin, a principal of Coughlin Porter Lundeen, which employs about 75 people. He said the downtown business district frequently smells of urine. A group of young people regularly blocks the sidewalks and intimidates passers-by.
He said he’s seen a gradual deterioration throughout the past five years that seems to have worsened in recent months.
David Watkins, president of the Seattle Hotel Association, was assaulted in June at Third Avenue and Pike Street by a man who had more than 20 arrests for similar street crimes. The suspect was arrested and charged in the June incident but was released from jail and did not appear for a pretrial hearing in July. A warrant was issued for his arrest.
Watkins said he’d like to see his assailant and others on the downtown streets get the help they need. But in the meantime, he said, the city needs to act.
“There’s a huge urgency. I’m really concerned about the safety of my employees and myself. Something has to be done.”
Seattle Times staff reporter Justin Mayo contributed to this story.
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes
A headline that appeared online incorrectly characterized the violent crime rate downtown. The headline has been altered to reflect what Times analysis shows to be a steady violent crime rate in the area.