Seattle police share new strategies to fight Belltown crime increase

By: Linzi Sheldon

Updated:

SEATTLE - Seattle police shared new crime-fighting strategies with Belltown residents Wednesday night during the monthly Belltown Community Council meeting.

Capt. Thomas Mahaffey took over as captain of SPD’s West Precinct at the end of September and has started with new steps, like telling officers to spend at least 45 minutes a day out of their patrol vehicles.

“One of the priorities I pushed out to all my sergeants and watch commanders is that we have officers take time out of their cars to walk foot patrol in certain areas that we designated,” he said. “We have to start having officers out, engaging with the community, walking the beat, going to businesses, meeting with people.”

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It’s good news for longtime local business owner Jill Donnelly at Baby & Company on 1st Avenue.

She said it feels as though there is a “lack of police presence,” with officers on bikes or in patrol cars rather than on foot patrol.

KIRO 7 showed her the latest crime statistics, which show an increase in overall crime in 2017 in Belltown compared to 2016 and 2015.

“I had not known that the stats were so dramatic,” she said. Donnelly said they fall in line with how employees have been feeling because of things like car break-ins, petty theft, harassment, and open drug use outside the store.

“My team, they get scared,” she said. “We’ve talked about other ways of ‘arming’—just with a whistle or pepper spray, because they’ve just recently felt a little more threatened than they used to a year ago.”

A comparison shows that as of September, Belltown had 58 aggravated assaults, while it had 59 aggravated assaults during the entirety of 2016. The recent double homicide under the monorail near 5th Avenue and Battery Street puts Belltown’s homicides at two so far this year, while the area recorded one homicide last year.

The change in property crime is even more distinct. Already, Belltown has recorded 144 burglaries and 849 thefts as of September, while during all of last year, Belltown had 125 burglaries and 765 thefts.

“Car prowls in particular are a significant issue for us,” Capt. Mahaffey said. “There's a lot of parking garages, open garages in the Belltown area.”

He said they’re putting out leaflets and signs to warn people, and he has changed some officers’ shifts to focus on property crimes. 

KIRO 7 also asked whether there were any suspects identified in the recent shooting.

“I’m confident it’s going to be solved rather quickly,” he said. “It was not a community-based homicide.”

The president of the Belltown Community Council, Dean McColgan, said Belltown is growing quickly, and crime can result from a lot of people moving through the area daily.

“We want to make sure that we as citizens, as business owners, are doing everything we can do to do our part in community public safety,” he said. “We want to make sure we are taking advantage of all the resources the police have to offer. And then we want to understand basically what how — with the increase in the numbers — how are the police addressing those increases?”

McColgan said the council wants to hear what police are doing in terms of strategies or allocation of resources. But, he said, he does not feel Belltown is less safe than other years and feels secure walking around.

Donnelly also pointed to the effects of the mental health and opioid crises, acknowledging that it will take police, other city departments and citizens as well to improve the situation in the short term and the long term.

“You’ve got someone who is high or having an episode in your store, you’ve got a team of employees, you’ve got customers,” she said. “We need more training. How do I de-escalate that situation?”

 

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