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Mayor considers turning off Cal Anderson anti-crime lighting experiment

It might be Michael McGinn’s administration of the city in a nutshell — a bold willingness to experiment and seek new solutions mixed with the momentum of City Hall’s bureaucracy when one of those experiments doesn’t work.

The mayor’s office and representatives from the community and organizations around Cal Anderson are talking about a pushback on one of those experiments rolled out this summer as part of a larger initiative by McGinn in response to growing concerns about crime in the park. That initiative included thousands of dollars for new police and park rangers as well as increased patrols from the nearby East Precinct.

It also included a small, relatively cheap, if not the most green, experiment — leaving the lights on in the park and above Bobby Morris playfield through the night to cut down on campers and drug activity and make the area safer for pedestrian activity.

While the burst of street robbery activity near the park and a string of violent acts seems to have, indeed, settled down with the end of summer, residents living nearby, including many in the Hunters Capital-owned Broadway Building west of the park across Nagle Place, complain that the lights are too bright and that the situation is adding to problems in the park, not solving them.

“We feel that while the idea was a good one in theory, it has created more bad than good,” a representative for Hunters Capital tells CHS. “[Cal Anderson] appears to be open 24/7 with the lights on and people are treating it as such.”

SPD also doesn’t likely have much good to say about the lighting experiment. Efforts to keep the paths, playfield and basketball court clear of use in the well-lit park between 11:30 PM and the park’s 4 AM opening have been a challenge. People in the area say police are called out regularly for some of the louder disturbances but other illegal activities in the closed park continue mostly unabated by the light with drug users retreating to the same areas like bushes or next to buildings and large trees that they utilize during the day.

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 12.10.13 PMIn recent weeks, the park’s lights suddenly began being turned off again without any announcement of a change. CHS tweeted a question about whether the lighting plan had been shut down — the lights were back on again soon after.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office says McGinn is collecting feedback on the situation. “The Mayor’s Office, Parks and SPD will meet with residents and business owners to discuss the effectiveness of and any other issues involving the Cal Anderson lights,” he writes, inviting CHS readers to provide their feedback on the lights to mike.mcginn@seattle.gov. A decision is expected before Thanksgiving but the spokesperson believes the administration can “reach a resolution much sooner than that.”

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23 thoughts on “Mayor considers turning off Cal Anderson anti-crime lighting experiment

  1. It seems as though this wasn’t the case two weeks ago, when the lights shut off before our soccer game was even over (~10:45pm). Curious if there’s an explanation for that.

  2. That is what I thought would happen. The lights are an invitation, not a deterrent. Still, it was worth a try and I applaud the attempt to improve the safety of the park.

  3. Too bad this didn’t work. But I have to hand it to Mayor’s office – its a GOOD thing to see City Hall willing to try a number of solutions. Examine if they work. Ditch the ones that don’t. Focus on the ones that do.

  4. God forbid McGinn try something more direct and less passive aggressive. Send the cops out there to WALK in the park instead of turning a blind eye with some drivebys and leaving the lights on hoping it make the problem go away.

      • McGinn’s telling the Parks Dept. to turn on the lights hardly qualifies as a “bold” move. Why is he not requiring the SPD to increase patrols significantly in the park, at least over the summer months? That is the one thing which would actually deter crime there.

        Maybe our soon-to-be Mayor, Ed Murray, will have some better…and, indeed, “bolder”….ideas.

    • I was sitting in Cal Anderson around 10pm Sunday night by the reservoir and a squad car drove right past on the gravel path. Stop fear mongering

  5. Well what data are they using to base this on? I don’t see how you can compare summer crime to fall/winter crime and say the lights didn’t work. There is a huge influx of people into Seattle in the Summer that explains a lot of the shady types. These people leave when Seattle starts to become unfun to be in (cold/rain/wet).

    Attributing the crime decrease/increase to the lights must first be proven against the normal seasonal shifts in crime.

    It’s like shutting down the police station for a week and seeing that it had no effect on crime and using that to close down all of the city’s police stations.

  6. I wish the city would put more money into foot patrols. Cops cruising by in their cars don’t make me any safer, someone’s just going to wait until the cars are out of sight. However, foot patrols create a human presence which has a multiplier effect – once people see a small amount of foot traffic in the park at night, they join in, and then more people join them. It’s the current lack of human presence and witnesses that makes that area dangerous. Also, it’s not just the park, it’s all the side streets in this area.

  7. Foot patrols in the park and in the neighboring areas would make a lot of sense, but the dollar bill cost of burning the new Bobby Morris LED’s is probably cheaper than paying the cops. Another cost-effective measure would be to cut down all the trees, get rid of the granite walls, and bull-doze Teletubby Hill, so visibility would be at a premium. Also, get rid of all the bushes where bad people can hide. And if the crime goes on an uptick, whack it down with more LED lighting.

  8. I have an idea. Put uncomfortable lighting in exactly the areas where the problematic activity occurs. I’m sure somebody’s making anti-loitering light fixtures, somewhere. Maybe it can be LEDs of an unpleasant color set to flicker at an unpleasant frequency, like old, unballasted fluorescent lights. There are also high-frequency sound generators used by some shop owners to deter loiterers. If that fails, fence the park and release roving packs of ornery goats every evening.

  9. Perhaps (she says, not completely tongue-in-cheek) the park could try playing some sort of music late at night that many find unpleasant (like opera)? No offense to those who love opera, but I know this strategy has proven effective with some convenience stores and other businesses trying to discourage unpleasant loitering activity.

  10. Pathetic. Crime has been around a while (at least since the invention of electric lights) and it’s not like this idea hasn’t been tried numerous times before with equivocal results. So, our mayor had a bold willingness to try something that has pretty much been proven not to work. He doesn’t know how to run a city but he gives it a good try – that will take you very far in Seattle where we all appreciate a good sport.

    • McGinn’s gross incompetence has no business in a major city. I look forward to his rapid exit from power, before all we have left is street crime and bike lanes. We need results, not to pat him on the head for trying something stupid.

  11. Pingback: The Spectator » City Fights Crime with Big Lightbulbs

  12. In properly designed studies, crime rates at night went up with more light, not down. In studies that collected the data, it appears that what happened is that crime shifted from the daylit hours to the newly-lit night time period.

  13. Just fence that damn park and then close the gates when the park is shut down at night. That will keep the homeless and drug dealers and trouble makers out.

  14. Lights encourage crime instead of reducing it. Most crime of the kind we fear occurs in daylight, ergo criminals need light. In the UK where lights have been switched off, crime has gone down by as much as 50%. Bangladesh has regular power-cuts, but no concomitant increase in crime. So leaving lights on is actually counter-productive.

  15. Pingback: City reportedly turning off anti-crime plan for all-night lights in Cal Anderson | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle