East Precinct’s new commander takes on Pike/Pine crime

Capt. Paul McDonagh in what we *think* was his first public appearance as the new East Precinct commander Friday morning (Image: CHS)

Capt. Paul McDonagh, speaking, in what we *think* was his first public appearance as the new East Precinct commander Friday morning (Image: CHS)

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.”

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In an October sample, East Precinct saw a 25% spike in callouts on Fridays as Pike/Pine’s streets swell with nightlife revelers. Meanwhile, 911 response times show the precinct’s beat officers are keeping up with the demand — mostly

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.

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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.

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14 thoughts on “East Precinct’s new commander takes on Pike/Pine crime

  1. Meanwhile in the CD, gangs drive around shooting the place up at a furious pace with virtually no police presence. Most the shooting in the CD now occur in daylight hours while civil society is out and about trying to get on with their lives.

    Some bangers fires of a dozen rounds at another group of banger hanging out at the park (a park where hundreds of kids play every day), the cops zip over, pick up shell casings, then head back to patrol Capitol Hill.

    I’m sure the CD has had more shots fired in the first 3.5 months of this year than Capitol Hill has had in the past decade. What do we get from SPD in the CD? Pretty much the scraps.

    Sigh…

    • I hear you about the CD, but truthfully it has been more peaceful around here since the latest SWAT team raid on the gang house on 27th.

      SPD should stay permanently parked outside it to save themselves the response time.

  2. Thanks for the report JSeattle,

    6-8 officers for the “Pike Pine Corridor, or for all for all of Capitol Hill or for the entire East Precinct ? If this is for the entire East Precinct, it sure seems like a very, very small # of officers on patrol.
    Overall, the # of gun incidents lately has been alarming around here. I sometimes say to friends…”gee, what ever happened to a good old fist fight” ?

  3. The CD and south end actually get/soak up a lot of policing resources (some of them Federal) that don’t make the news but people I know who live there were seeing improvement until the very recent spate of gun violence. The east precinct area has issues with gun crime, anti social behavior (ranging from drunken fights to hate crimes) and probably heroin fueled theft. Hopefully the City Attorney can be troubled to perform his job and help clean up the crime aspect on the hill. Residents need to be aware of caring about their neighbors and willing to report crime, and the police need to continue to be an increasing presence.

    • When you say improvements until recent spate of shootings, when did those improvements begin? After the five CD homicide in April/May of last year? I would hope that things would improve from that nadir. Now we find ourselves in the same situation except, due to poor marksmanship, we have had no homicides. There have been far, far more rounds fired in the CD so far this year than last. Yes, we have the ATF working with SPD gang unit detectives on long lead projects, but federal resources do not patrol our neighborhoods.

      I have lived here for 20 years, on my street by Powell Barnett for 11. My family has witnessed six shooting in the past 5 years, yes actually witnessed. On that count, my 4 year old has more street cred than most kids from Compton. Very sad.

      As far as city attorney Pete Holmes, when he was presenting at the SPD East Precinct monthly community meeting (EastPAC), he said that he had never heard of 27th & Spring which is possibly the single most notorious gang house in the CD for the past 20 years. I don’t think CD gangs and quality of life for CD residents is one of Holmes’ personal interest to the point he keep abreast or simply be briefed before speaking to CD residents and a police/community meeting amid yet another “spate of shootings”.

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