In a Friday morning meeting with business owners from Pike/Pine’s biggest clubs to its smallest and with representatives from retailers like Elliott Bay Book Company and local real estate development companies, East Precinct’s new commander Capt. Paul McDonagh addressed concerns that not enough is being done to police Seattle’s current busiest nightlife and entertainment district.
McDonagh, newly returned to the post he helmed for two and a half years starting in 2009, told the business owners and representatives that increased patrols are already underway and that detective work and investigations are already making a difference. “You’re not going to see officers on every block,” McDonagh said. “That doesn’t mean that we’re not working.”
The meeting came after a letter to city officials and the mayor from more than 40 Pike/Pine businesses in March calling for more cops to patrol the booming neighborhood. “Capitol Hill has a quickly increasing number of residents and people visiting it,” one portion of the letter said. “This increase needs to be met with an increased budget for policing and social services.”
According to details discussed at Friday’s meeting, six to eight officers are typically on patrol at any given time. Emphasis patrols essentially double the police force on the streets. “There will be nights where I put even more out,” McDonagh said.
The focus is on “high population nights” — Friday, Saturday, and “Sunday if it’s nice” — nights when the streets of Pike/Pine swell with club and bar patrons.
Cameron Black, who runs club security company MacGregor Staffing Events, said more patrol officers aren’t enough. “The emphasis patrols are not accomplishing a whole lot,” Black said. Black said East Precinct needs more detectives working in Pike/Pine and to do more to investigate criminals in the area. Capt. McDonagh said investigative efforts are underway but can’t be detailed publicly.
McDonagh said the East Precinct and Pike/Pine specifically has grown so much that he also wants to “explore some more options for nightlife” policing including new lighting and new “access plans.”
The neighborhood’s nightlife economy has changed greatly since McDonagh’s last tour commanding the precinct. The Seattle Times’s recent report included some staggering numbers behind the Pike/Pine bar scene including that “Capitol Hill’s bars and restaurants can hold more than 19,000 people.” The population surge appears to seriously impact policing. According to SPD data from an October sample, 911 response times for the highest priority calls were 13% slower on Friday nights.
While Mayor Murray is planning to hire 50 more officers this year — around a 4% increase in the sworn officer totals in the city — budget issues are definitely at play in Pike/Pine. Last year, the precinct leaned heavily on overtime budget to power increased patrols. SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole has mandated stricter controls on spending for the department, officials said Friday. McDonagh and his brass who were on hand for the meeting pledged that they were committed to finding space in their budgets to address business owner concerns.
Friday morning, Deputy Mayor Kate Joncas said City Hall is also looking at what impact large events like the Capitol Hill Block Party have on policing budgets. Joncas also said Seattle’s political activism — “a protest every night,” she said — is also taking a toll on officers.
Another representative for the mayor’s office said a new “drug market initiative” effort will be announced soon for a downtown emphasis area and that the area around Cal Anderson is planned as one of the next area’s for SPD to tackle after it makes progress at 3rd and Pine. Five years ago, we were reporting on the so-called “open air DMI” emphasis at 23rd and Union in the Central District.
CHS reported on 2014’s crime trends here — and the status of two federal indictments handed down to men associated with the East African Posse scooped up on warrants during last year’s increased patrols around Pike/Pine. Dave Meinert, owner of the Comet, Lost Lake and more (and also a CHS advertiser), said he was disappointed a representative from the city’s East African outreach efforts wasn’t present at Friday’s meetings to address ongoing concerns with gang-driven street crime.
Meanwhile, statistics compiled by CHS from the City of Seattle show that assaults and robberies in East Precinct beats covering Capitol Hill have slowed since the previous big emphasis patrol surge last September. In the first three months of 2015, there were 14% fewer reported assaults and robberies around Capitol Hill than in the same period in 2014.
The same data shows the incredible surge that took place across the Hill in 2013 and the spike from last summer that prompted the initial emphasis patrol efforts.
To follow on Friday’s meeting, McDonagh suggested that a nightlife crime session be piggybacked on to an existing recurring community meeting around LGTBQ crimes. He said he’s also aware of concerns about the “differences between cultures” that can play out on E Pike and manifest in hate crimes, beatings, and fights. He said he’s heard about the “Woo! girls and bros” and said part of making the neighborhood work is making sure people who come to Pike/Pine recognize the neighborhood’s tolerant culture. “They need to be taught that. Then they need to be held accountable to that,” McDonagh said.
But he also let the assembled business owners know he’s not there to help prop up Party Mountain. “I don’t like overserving. I don’t like underage drinking. I don’t like overcrowding,” McDonagh said. McDonagh said if club owners can help address those issues, his precinct will have a better chance at taking care of the rest.