SEATTLE — Is downtown Seattle safe? That depends who you ask.
“I feel very safe,” says Laurie, who works downtown. “I walk through the parks, Occidental Square, Pioneer Square, early in the morning. There’s certainly people in need of human services or mental health services but they don’t bother me, they don’t scare me.”
But the homeless and the mentally ill do scare others. They may not be committing crimes, but the King County sheriff admits there are too many cases of them panhandling, drinking in public, or urinating on the streets.
“My wife, when she meets me downtown by the King County Courthouse, she doesn’t feel safe and I understand that,” said Sheriff John Urquhart. “We spend a lot of time looking at statistics, crimes are up, crimes are down. But it’s really the fear of crime that’s most important. If people don’t feel safe, then they’re not safe.”
City Councilman Bruce Harrell hosted a roundtable discussion on Wednesday and invited city employees, law enforcement and downtown business leaders to talk about the problems they see. There have been other efforts to help downtown, including the mayor’s pledge last month to put more officers on the streets.
But Harrell said that’s not enough.
“The people whose perception matters the most are those who live downtown, shop downtown, work downtown and they’re saying whatever you’re doing is not working,” Harrell said.
“I think more officers is one answer, but it’s not the only answer,” adds Urquhart. “Everyone agrees, at least in this meeting, we can’t arrest our way out of society’s problems.”
Harrell wants to start measuring the number of civil infractions that are occurring and creating a feeling of disorder downtown, so future meetings can focus on what specific programs or services can help the homeless and mentally ill.
“It’s a quality of life issue,” saidHarrell. “We rely on the tax downtown — people shopping and working downtown. If we don’t improve the quality of life downtown, we will lose.”