EDITORIAL | Seattle’s law and disorder

Recent news reports have Seattleites wondering whether our police will be able to keep our downtown core — and, ultimately, the rest of the city — safe from increasing crime.

Witnesses saw a group of 10 people beat a man unconscious on Pine Street in Downtown Seattle on the night of Sept. 26. The group — consisting of both men and women — were reportedly gang members.

Downtown Seattle has also seen an escalation in aggressive panhandling, drug dealing, homelessness, public urination, graffiti, public drinking and pot smoking — behaviors that scare away tourists and others who don’t need to be in the area.

One of new Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole’s first tasks was to assign Assistant Police Chief Mike Washburn to target downtown crime. Still, there is no plan to curb the illegal activities, and downtown residents and business groups are now calling for a no-panhandling zone to stretch from the waterfront to the Washington State Convention & Trade Center.

In response, Mayor Ed Murray continues to push for adding 100 police officers in four years — 50 in the coming year, alone. However, he won’t pursue a no-panhandling zone; instead, he’d like the city to enforce the existing laws and prosecute violators.

But there’s not much our police officers can do within our current laws to make an immediate impact on crime in the city. Former Mayor Mike McGinn vetoed a law against aggressive panhandling in 2010, and the city prosecutor’s office is dismissing about 100 tickets for public pot smoking, as a result of one biased police officer issuing the majority of them.

And, has been recently reported, the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) North Precinct, which serves the entire area north of the Lake Washington ship canal, has cut its staff from 14 detectives to two detectives and an on-loan patrol officer, who investigate up to 1,500 cases each month, according to an internal memo leaked to KOMO-TV.

Another internal memo, obtained by KIRO-TV, notes that officers are too concerned about following the department’s new use-of-force policy to effectively police. They are either spending too much time writing the required additional documentation instead of being out on patrol, or are reluctant to use force at all, endangering their own safety, because of the required paperwork that must follow even minimal contact with suspects. Evidently, even “career criminals” are using this information to their advantage.

We may be nearing a crisis point. Police Chief O’Toole and other city officials need to act promptly and decisively to ease frustrations, or they will soon contend with citizens taking justice into their own hands.