Challenges to quelling Cal Anderson crime continue as mayor comes to Hill to tout East Precinct progress

Mayor McGinn addresses the TV cameras -- and a neighborhood blogger -- with Capt. Wilson on hand (Image: CHS)

Mayor McGinn addresses the TV cameras — and a neighborhood blogger — with Capt. Wilson on hand (Image: CHS)

Mayor Mike McGinn came to the East Precinct last week to tour trouble spots and help SPD’s brass tout some early progress in quelling concerns about crime around Cal Anderson Park. But, apparently, the mayor has got nothing on local little league coaches.

CHS has learned that complaints from local sports leagues have joined the chorus of concern that has arisen about the popular city park.

During last week’s conference with media about East Precinct policing, Capt. Ron Wilson included Cal Anderson’s travails in his updates on the large swath of Central Seattle his officers patrol. There has been near-term progress, Wilson said, on reducing armed street robberies with 13 incidents reported in March compared to more than 20 in January and February each.

But solving the problems around Cal Anderson and ongoing serious violence in the Central District where another shooting homicide was added in March to the city’s 2013 tally, requires more than policing, Wilson said. “It really takes community involvement and other city government involvement,” the commander said.

The mayor would have you know that SPD's stats continue to show Seattle's crime rate is one of the lowest in the nation (Source: SPD)

The mayor would have you know that SPD’s stats continue to show Seattle’s crime rate is one of the lowest in the nation. CHS last looked at Capitol Hill’s crime trends here (Source: SPD)

Homelessness and the seasonal pressures of people trying to camp in the park make for a complicated environment to police.

“The reality is that we don’t have all the shelter available for people who are choosing to sleep outside,” said McGinn.

“It’s one of the reasons i’ve been more open to regulated to tent encampments,” the mayor said. A Seattle City Council committee will discuss legislation Wednesday, to permit “transitional encampments for homeless individuals as an interim use on City-owned or private property.”

CHS survey

Games interrupted by inebriated people or people showing signs of mental illness, fights and threats are part of the list of complaints officials from local leagues have lodged with SPD about the area around Cal Anderson’s Bobby Morris playfields. Without a solution, some teams are threatening to stop scheduling the field — a potential loss of revenue for Seattle Parks and another potential blow to keeping the area around the park active.

While drug use and drug paraphernalia found around the park are also on the list of frequent complaints about the space, Wilson said his findings don’t indicate Cal Anderson is a growing drug market and he doesn’t believe a concerted “buy/bust” effort would be effective for the park.

“We don’t believe it’s a haven for selling drugs,” Wilson said. McGinn added that one recent Seattle experiment with undercover cops posing as street buyers to bust dealers in the U District ended with “95%” of arrests being for marijuana. At the news conference, McGinn said he hopes the coming regulated marijuana market can “outmaneuver” the black market for weed.

Where do the harder drugs being used in Cal Anderson come from? “That’s the challenge,” Wilson tells CHS. “We don’t have a lot of info.”

Here’s how the city is outlining the approach to increased SPD presence in the park this summer:

The Anti-Crime Team (ACT) will be spending more time proactively working to address public safety issues within the Park and surrounding neighborhoods.  Patrol officers will be making more frequent visits during park closure times to ensure all is well. The Community Police Team (CPT) has begun to assist patrol resources by outfitting some of their officers with bicycle uniforms. These bicycle-trained CPT Officers will periodically break away from their traditional role in order to expand police presence in various hotspot areas within the East Precinct.

One possible solution for Cal Anderson not discussed during last week’s visit from the mayor is the possible addition of a “concierge” for the park. The attendant would join the already planned park ranger patrol and increased presence of SPD as a contact for people using the fields and facilities around the Cal Anderson Sheltherhouse and bathrooms. You’ll find a similar approach funded by downtown businesses at play down around Westlake.

While nobody has ponied up the money yet to fund the concierge role, the “downtown” plan is another sign that Cal Anderson has graduated to the needs of a “downtown” park.

Meanwhile, Wilson’s officers also piloted the first uses of new predictive policing software now being used widely in Seattle that statistically identifies areas that require increased police presence and patrols. In a bit of irony likely only a little bit troubling to the statistically minded, the system, which also sucks up things like license plate numbers recorded by parking police, has only thus far been used to identify property crime hotspots. SPD brass says, through March, “some of the crime trends in the East Precinct were up 11% from the level in February, with the increase coming in Property Crimes.”

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20 thoughts on “Challenges to quelling Cal Anderson crime continue as mayor comes to Hill to tout East Precinct progress

  1. McGinn and luckily a dwindling minority are refusing to address the main issue right in front of them; the homeless panhandling street kids (just see poll). No they do not cause all the crime, but if we had actual laws to curb aggressive panhandling, and loitering, a good 50-75% of the “issues” would be resolved!

    You may call me heartless, but I am the taxpayer who lives, eats, and enjoys the area so I would think I should have a larger say. You can still be a bleeding liberal without letting letting them over run us (even Portland, the hippy capitol has more aggressive hand handling laws!!!). Its sad when NYC is safer to walk around than Capitol Hill.

    • My older sister lives in the East Village in NYC. When I was there a few months ago, I couldn’t believe that she would get her iPhone out anywhere and that she would walk her dog in Tompkins Square park at night. She found it hilarious that I was yelling at her for both of those things – but hey, I’m used to walking by Cal Anderson park, catching the bus at 3rd + Pike, etc.

    • John, I 100% agree with you!

      A few years ago, Cal Anderson was one of my favorite parks, now whenever I visit all I see are street kids loitering around the park throwing their trash on the ground and making the area feel completely unsafe. Even dogs knows better than to piss where they sleep. I volunteered for the Capitol Hill clean-up a few weeks back and I was astonished that a large group of these kids just hung around and watched active community members clean up messes that some of them may have contributed to creating and then got in line for the pizza provided for volunteers as if they give a damn about our community at all! People can groan all they want about how we are “becoming Bellevue” or that “Capitol Hill is losing its character” but when people no longer feel safe in park space that our tax money is going towards, something needs to be done.

  2. Totally agree with more laws/ordinances against panhandling. Just creates a sleazy aura over the entire area. Maybe close the park earlier unless you’re actively using the sports field.

    Also, totally disagree with the comment that its not a haven for drugs. I live adjacent to the park and regularly see drug deals while walking through. Maybe some more plain clothes officers would help. Once the dealers realize its not safe to deal there, they’ll stop coming.

    • It’s really odd to me how people don’t realize that, not only do we already have pretty strict laws, we recently passed them AGAIN, just for good measure. We don’t need the laws (they’re there); we need them enforced.

  3. I meant to post this on its own, not to any specific person, so I’ll just post it again, here:

    It’s really odd to me how people don’t realize that, not only do we already have pretty strict laws, we recently passed them AGAIN, just for good measure. We don’t need the laws (they’re there); we need them enforced.

  4. I agree we need more enforcement. I’ll walk by/through the park during the day, but after sunset I avoid the place. Meaning yes, in the winter I won’t walk by it after 5 pm.

  5. It’s interesting to me that we all want more enforcement in the park against panhandling and mentally ill and drug deals and the like, but just a very few years ago, SPD got themselves into a major sh**storm because an officer shot one of those folks who are on the street all the time. Remember, it needs to also be the RIGHT kind of enforcement.

    • Exactly. Most especially when you consider, as DE already pointed out, the police would have to open the East Precinct door, walk down the block and walk across the street in order to patrol. You would think that the City (nevermind the SPD) would find this situation embarrassing.

  6. I met a friend in Cal Anderson on a sunny Friday afternoon for a walk. While waiting ten minutes for my friend to arrive I realized that I felt more unsafe than I have ever felt in that park or neighborhood, and I have been going there for over 30 years.

    I saw open air drug deals, prostitution or sex in the men’s room that could be seen through the grates on the back door, heroin use, a man selling what I assume were stolen goods out of a briefcase (deodorant, batteries, fancy beard trimmers), tent camps on the edges of the park, homeless men sleeping in the middle of playing fields, panhandlers that would actually grab people on the shoulders before asking for money, large groups of young people in a lot of red and Chicago Bulls jerseys fighting over the basketball hoops, and guys walking really close behind me, even though I was standing in the middle of the field, as though they were going to approach me or pick pocket me. I never saw a single police officer but I think the criminals all knew who the undercover officers were, because they’d stop for a second when certain people walked by, then resume their activities. I wish I would have seen some police so I could ask them for help, and I didn’t dare get on my phone and complain about the gangbangers that were trying to approach me. I thought either my phone or myself would have been clobbered. Remember: this was all in ten minutes’ time, on a sunny Friday afternoon.

    The park, and what to do about making it a nicer place, has been a frequent topic of conversation with my friends who live, work and play on Capitol Hill. They host clean-up parties, try to make good use of the playfields, and parents I know try to defend the playground from the forces of evil. But we can’t think of anything new. Can any of you?

    Thanks, and see you in the park!

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