Sharp surge in violence brings mobile police precinct to downtown Seattle

SEATTLE — A surge in violence is sparking change in downtown Seattle. The police department is boosting its presence in the troubled neighborhood near Third Avenue and Pine Street.

That’s where a 15-year-old boy was murdered Wednesday night around 7:30 p.m. It’s the third shooting in 10 days within several blocks.

Residents in the neighborhood woke up to a mobile police precinct and strong police presence of officers on bike patrols on Thursday. The block of Third Avenue between Pike and Pine streets was also clear from the usual mass of people there.

“Hallelujah thank you, Jesus,” said Margaret Reid, who lives downtown.

That’s the reaction from most people downtown. But many say it shouldn’t have taken the murder of a teen for the block to be cleared.

“It’s sad. Somebody’s kid they raised,” said Dane Guntle, a Seattle resident. “Unfortunately I think it will be back to the same unless they try to get these blues off the street it’s just going to keep going on. Seattle needs to enforce on the drugs,” Guntle said.

The latest deadly shooting comes after another man was murdered here Sunday, and yet another man was shot in the face last Monday.

“What we’re really concerned on is getting it to stop. To have a 15-year-old shot here at 7:15 at night is just absolutely devastating and unacceptable,” said Detective Valerie Carson with the Seattle Police Department on Wednesday night.

Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz said in a statement on Thursday afternoon that the police department “will be launching an initiative to curb the violent criminal behavior in the area surrounding 3rd Ave., between Pike and Pine St.”

Business owner Brandon Davis runs Profit 3D, a 3D printing company near Third and Pike.

“Sometimes I don’t want to work late because I’m thinking maybe it’ll be me that gets shot,” Davis said. “You come out here and it is a open drug market,” he said.

He’s calling on the mayor to make changes.

" I’d like the mayor to have less press conferences and I’d like him to actually tell the police to enforce the laws as written,” Davis said.

In a statement, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said in part:

“These continued acts of violence and street disorder are unacceptable and beyond tragic. My heart is filled with sorrow. … We are launching a comprehensive and collaborative approach to address this crisis.”

The police presence currently at Third and Pine is similar to the response Seattle police launched nearly two weeks ago at 12th and Jackson in Little Saigon, another trouble hot spot.

“It used to be like 100 people here at all times,” said Taylor Coon, a Little Saigon resident. “Just an open-air drug market,” he said.

After a string of shootings there, police set up a mobile precinct.

“It’s all clear now which is definitely an obvious improvement. We couldn’t even be standing here a week ago,” Coon said.

But some people say the crowd simply relocated.

“They’ll kick them out and you hear them talking to each other. Oh, let’s go down towards that way,” said Carlos Manuel, who was working in Little Saigon on Thursday. “It was a massive amount but now they’ve reduced themselves to three or four ‘vendors’ per corner if you want to call them that,” Manuel said.

In the past two weeks since 12th and Jackson was cleared, violence near 3rd and Pine has escalated with three shootings in 10 days, including deadly incidents on Sunday and Thursday nights.

“We charge every shooting case that’s been sent to us,” said Casey McNerthney, spokesperson for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

McNerthney added that his department has not yet received documents from Seattle police to file charges on many recent felonies.

“We know they’re working very hard to get us the cases. Ultimately most of the cases haven’t been sent to us. But that’s not blaming police,” McNerthney said. “We know the Seattle Police Department is down several hundred officers from where they’re supposed to be,” he said.

Diaz said patrol officers at 12th and Jackson would be replaced with non-patrol personnel to staff the mobile precinct there, in order to free up officers downtown.

The full statement from Mayor Harrell’s office is below:

“These continued acts of violence and street disorder are unacceptable and beyond tragic. My heart is filled with sorrow for the victims – for the individuals and families traumatized; for the downtown residents, workers and businesses with no choice but to live and work alongside recurring crime and gun violence; and for people across Seattle who should see downtown as a thriving beacon for our city and region but instead continue to see a corridor defined by chaos, dysfunction, and tragedy.

“While these problems are years in the making, my administration is acting with urgency by increasing police presence and working to activate downtown. Ensuring visible and sustainable change requires additional effort. Working with Chief Diaz, law enforcement partners and community advocates, we are launching a comprehensive and collaborative approach to address this crisis.

“These issues have only furthered my resolve to restore and strengthen the severely understaffed police department that I inherited. We need more officers to meet our public safety needs. As mayor, it’s my job to be the chief recruiter for our city. To those who share my belief that Seattle must be safe for everyone, I encourage you to be part of the solution and consider applying to join our police service today.

“In One Seattle, we believe everyone has the absolute right to feel safe. Despite our best early efforts, it’s clear we are not there yet. Until then, One Seattle means a shared sense of heartbreak when crime and violence impact our communities, as well as a shared commitment to do better.”