Grants to help fund private security? Fed up Seattle businesses ask for help

SEATTLE — Businesses in Seattle say the need to hire security officers to prevent crime has become so dire, they’re now asking the city for grants to help cover some of those costs. Some call it a band-aid solution, but other businesses say it would help while Seattle works on addressing the homelessness crisis.

Some businesses say they’re dealing with damaged property, or having to call in cleaning companies daily to clean off excrement. Others are hiring security to keep tourists and staff safe. For example, multiple Seattle underground say their guides have been assaulted, repeatedly.

Company “Beneath the Streets” said they’ve considered hiring security.

“We’ve looked into that and it’s very expensive. We’re lucky we’re still in business after the shutdown,” said Terrilyn Johnson, a co-owner of Beneath the Streets.

Hiring a security officer costs $50 - $120 an hour depending on what kind of security guard or off duty officer you’re hiring. Now some are hoping for better solutions.

“It’s really a sad blight on the community,” said James Egan, who works in the Pioneer Square neighborhood. “It’s never been like this, it’s a disappointment to have so many homeless folks living outside without a proper place to go,” he said.

Another business in Pioneer Square just opened a few months before the pandemic hit. “The Stop,” a café and sandwich shop, said they have to call in a cleaning company nearly every day to get waste cleaned off their door step.

“With the tourists, I don’t think it projects a very good image of Seattle - especially next door to the Underground, hundreds of people coming from everywhere,” said Laurent Gabrel, chef and owner of “The Stop”.

Now the Downtown Seattle Association  – and dozens of businesses – have sent a letter to Seattle and King County councils requesting help and pressuring city leaders to make streets safer. The letter called for “immediate action” from the city.

The letter specifically included requesting grants from the city to help small businesses hire and pay for security, “to offset the significant additional security-related expenses being incurred by small businesses, retailers and arts and cultural venues due to reduced SPD staffing and increased response times.”

One group of downtown businesses have been paying $35,000 a month to hire two off-duty police officers to patrol about six blocks near 6th Ave and Pine Street.

“These small businesses losing their windows and doors – we need this as a stop gap measure and help them,” said Lou Bond, who is the property manager at the Melbourne Tower, a Seattle office building.

Seattle City Council member, whose district includes the Pioneer Square neighborhood, said in a statement the suggestions from business leaders in the letter “deserve our full consideration” for 2022, and said, “There is significant overlap between the Council’s 2021 budget priorities and the goals of this letter.”

Meanwhile, businesses acknowledge a security grant does not address the root cause of the problems.

“These are our brothers and sisters these are human beings and we’re just letting them be out here. This is terrible,” Bond said.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has already proposed the budget for next year. A spokesperson said city council could amend it to further fund help for businesses.