SEATTLE — In response to the growing frustration and concern over downtown safety, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced Thursday that more than $3.5 million will be allocated to combat the problem. As part of his plan, he wants more help for the mentally ill and drug addicted, who have been the perpetrators of much of the recent violence and disorder.
McGinn called it “a responsible, holistic approach to services and enforcement.” The mayor also called it a “paradigm shift” from how things have been done in the past when it comes to policing the downtown streets.
Some of the money will be spent on new cops to enforce the law, but the biggest change in strategy is a new plan to give drunks, drug addicts and the mentally ill a chance to get help instead of being jailed, where they often serve some time and then end up back on the streets causing the same old problems.
For “low-level, non-violent offenders with substance abuse problems, arrest and incarceration is not the solution for that person,” McGinn said. “Substance abuse treatment issues are.”
Given how controversial downtown public safety has become in this year’s mayor’s race, with downtown businesses especially critical of McGinn for not doing more, today’s announcement was surprising for the broad coalition — law enforcement, civil rights groups, human service providers, and, yes, the downtown business community – who stood with McGinn to support the effort.
“This is a really good start and I think a good model,” Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association said. “The encouraging thing is now we have a partnership among everybody that needs to be at the table. If we can stick together we might be able to make continued changes.”
Police Union Endorses Murray
But just a few hours after today’s moment of unity, a very different message about McGinn and public safety was announced. In a big blow to the mayor’s re-election campaign, the Seattle Police Union endorsed his opponent, Sen. Ed Murray.
“Seattle City Government is broken,” Rich O’Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild said. “Many have called it dysfunctional and we need someone with the ability to unite people and bring all the different groups, all the stakeholders together, and to work on the problems that we have.”
O’Neill argues that the city could have avoided having the Department of Justice come in and force police reforms if McGinn had been more focused on public safety.