Since 2012, Capitol Hill’s share of the city’s trespass incidents has risen steadily while downtown and Belltown have seen a decline at nearly the same rate. One explanation is there are just more homeless people camping out along Capitol Hill’s storefronts and sidewalks. But the trend may also indicate more homeless people are being moved up the Hill.
The statistics come to light after CHS’s report earlier this month that showed Capitol Hill’s growing share of Seattle trespassing incidents as East Precinct put its most commonly used citation to deal with the neighborhood’s homeless problem to use on a more and more frequent basis.
This new look at the stats compares the growth on Capitol Hill with the trends in the downtown core where business leaders have been pressuring the the city to do more to curb crime and create a more shopper-friendly environment around Westlake Center.
In the first quarter of 2012, 13.6% of the city’s trespass incidents occurred in Capitol Hill’s East Precinct, while 49.3% occurred in the West Precinct, which includes downtown and Belltown. In the first quarter of 2014 East Precinct’s share rose to 26.8% while West Precinct’s dropped to 36%.
The shift covers a period of increased focus on quelling homeless incidents around downtown and Pioneer Square. In 2010 SPD began adding more foot patrols downtown in response to mounting complaints from business owners over aggressive panhandlers and campers.
Another part of the equation is the expanded enforcement of downtown’s sit and lie ordinance, primarily used to get those sleeping on the street up and moving in the morning. A bulk of that work is performed by the roughly 30 ambassadors from the Metropolitan Improvement District’s safety team. In 2013 the program expanded into several more blocks of Belltown and Pioneer Square. The ambassador wake-ups generally reduce the number of trespassing calls to SPD, said MID spokesperson James Sido. In turn, more people could be choosing to move outside downtown’s sit and lie zone. In February, March, and April of this year ambassadors responded to 2,545 trespass incidents.
Also at play is an ongoing effort in recent years to clarify to police officers and business owners how the city’s trespassing laws should be enforced. In 2011 the city’s Contract Trespass Program was changed after it faced a civil rights lawsuit for unfairly targeting homeless people. An effort to train officers on enforcing both the trespass program and the city’s standing trespass ordinance could account for some of the increase in trespass incidents on Capitol Hill.
“There was some confusion of officers and the public,” said Matthew York, the city attorney’s East Precinct liaison. “An officer can still do something for you if you’re willing to be a witness in court.”
From 2004-2013 criminal trespass ranked as the 15th most cited violation by Seattle police officers, according to data recently reported on by CHS.
On the day CHS initially reported on the increasing number of encampments around Capitol Hill, building owners at the Broadway Grill cleared out a longstanding camp from a sidewalk alcove on their property as a Seattle Police officer stood watch.
What to do with a homeless person’s possessions, which occasionally sprawl out into public space, is a touchy issue facing property owners and police. At the Broadway Grill camp, a shopping cart and basket, a busted computer monitor, and heroin paraphernalia were among the tightly packed possessions that nearly filled-up a truck bed. Following the clean-up, the building owners erected a tall gate to prevent future encampments.
The building owners told CHS they had repeatedly asked the camper to leave before resorting to the barrier.
Addressing income inequality has been a top priority for Mayor Ed Murray in his first term in office but he hasn’t directly addressed the city’s homeless population in his initiatives and shelter, mental health and addiction services in the city, county, and state continue to be cut. The mayor’s office did not return several calls for comment on this story.