Seattle will spend millions on upgrades to police North Precinct

SEATTLE — After plans for a $150 million North precinct facility for Seattle police were put on hold, Mayor Jenny Durkan is speaking out about her own plans for a facility and how she plans to address problems at the current station in the meantime.

KIRO 7 was invited to go along with the mayor as she toured the facility on Monday.

“We’ve outgrown so many of our facilities but particularly right here,” she said.

The City Council has allocated about $11 million over the next five years for the current and future North Precinct. About $8.5 million will go toward deferred maintenance and expanding capacity at the current police station on College Way North.

“They're renting out space in another building,” Durkan said. “We can see that every nook and cranny is being taken up.”

North Precinct Capt. Sean O'Donnell said the station was built in 1984, designed for 125 people.Now it has more than 200.

“We've got officers that are waiting to get on computer terminals to write up reports, that sort of thing,” he said. “It is not effective and it keeps our officers in the building here, when they could be out on the street.”

As part of the work on the current precinct, the mayor plans to add three portables, one in front of the station for a community room and two in the back for more workspaces.

Additional parking would replace a green area, a change that is good news for neighbors like Elijah Ochoa.

“[The parking is] very crowded,” he said. “Many cars are on the streets.” But the mayor said these are not long-term solutions.

“Give the footprint, the size of this building, the condition of it, at some point will a new precinct building need to be built?” KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.

“I think it’s unavoidable that we won’t need some new facility,” Durkan said. “What we need to do is look at, what do we need today, what do we need in 10 years, 15 years, and really be thinking about, what does the city need for public safety?”

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The last design, which was for a $150 million facility off Aurora Avenue, was torpedoed by protests in 2016, an effort joined by City Council member Kshama Sawant.

“What lessons did you take away from the protests that came with the last plan for a new North Precinct?” KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.

“I think the lesson we have to learn is it's really important to stay connected with community as you plan new facilities for any kind of government, but particularly important for police because police have such an important relationship with how communities feel,” Durkan said.

The city will start community meetings on a new precinct once a new police chief is sworn in.

“What do you think of that strategy?” KIRO 7 asked Sawant.

“I’m a little worried about what the actual goal of the community engagement is,” she said. “If you want to know what people think about whether or not the city should build a new precinct in the north end, then, people have already spoken.”

But as for bringing in portables and doing maintenance in the short-term, Sawant isn't convinced, calling the current precinct station “a reasonably functional building.”

While she said adding more computers makes sense, she questioned spending more than $8 million.

“I think when we start talking about dollar figures, in millions, that should be focused around the most burning needs of our city, which is lack of affordable housing,” she said.

SPD and the city's Department of Neighborhoods will now canvass the neighborhood and hold community meetings to let neighbors know about the planned upgrades.

Construction on those upgrades is expected to start next spring.