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.
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.”
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.”