Seattle leaders emphasize arrests, prosecution in plan to clean up downtown

SEATTLE — There was a show of determination from Seattle-area leaders Friday, and a promise to crack down on crime in the city.

From local to federal law enforcement as well as prosecutors, leaders sent a unified message during a press conference, laying out the first steps to restore safety.

It comes after a sharp uptick in gun violence last year, with one hotspot being the downtown core near Third Avenue and Pine Street.

One immediate difference people will notice is more police downtown. But downtown residents and business owners are skeptical about long-term change, saying it seems like things often improve for a week after a major crime like a homicide, before things return to the troubled normal

“I’ve seen it like 10 times in the last four to five weeks and it all goes back to the same. I don’t know how long it’ll be this time but I expect to see it back,” said Brandon Davis, a business owner in downtown Seattle.

But this time, from police to prosecutors to the DEA, everyone is pledging they’re on the same page and are working together to restore safety in Seattle.

“We are out of control in terms of a city,” said Mayor Bruce Harrell.

City leaders are calling the new plan to start fixing public safety in Seattle “Operation New Day.”

“Making sure we enforce our laws, but also we enforce it with compassion and caring,” Harrell said.

The latest violent crimes include two murders this week near Third Avenue and Pine Street, a stabbing Friday morning at Fourth and Pine, and a stabbing this morning.

It comes as businesses have already been rapidly exiting downtown, citing safety concerns and bringing more vacant storefronts and boarded-up windows.

“The people doing the shooting are the same people who are loitering, urinating on the street, selling drugs. These crimes are out in the open — they’re visible to all who come to Third Ave and Pike Street,” David said. “I don’t understand why we have police if they’re not allowed to do their job,” he said.

Now in a show of unity between local and federal law enforcement and prosecutors, leaders are promising that things are changing. More arrests and prosecution was emphasized on Friday, while adding that simply arresting and prosecuting will not solve Seattle’s crime problem.

“Making sure we enforce our laws, but also we enforce it with compassion and caring,” Harrell said

“I have directed priority to prosecute dozens of crimes at Third Avenue in order to disrupt and deter the open-air drug market and fencing activity that has a hold in our downtown,” said Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison. The city attorney’s office handles misdemeanor crime.

The Seattle police chief said the police have arrested about 120 people just from 12th and Jackson, a crime hot spot that brought out a mobile precinct last month.

The chief admits many of the criminals are back out on the streets.

“We know they have been arrested, booked into jail, and we know many of them have been released. Some have been released and already re-arrested. So that is one of the challenges we are facing,” Diaz said. He said they are also working with the jail and judges to address the issue.

So far 10 people have been charged with felonies — three of them federal cases involving both guns and drugs. Dozens of other felony cases are still being investigated.

The DEA and Seattle mayor say another challenge is the increase in volume of fentanyl and people addicted to drugs. The city is also working on expanding services.

Frank Tarentino III, the special agent in charge at DEA Seattle, says Mexican cartels are pushing fentanyl-laced pills into Seattle.

“Last year Seattle DEA seized enough fentanyl to kill everyone in Washington,” Tarentino said. “Drug trafficking and gun violence directly linked. That’s causing the most harm in our communities,” he said.

“The number of addictions and criminal behavior influenced by the drug issue has increased. That’s why we’re not going out there with arrest, arrest, arrest. This is a health crisis. ... Making sure we enforce our laws, but also we enforce it with compassion and caring,” Harrell said.