A capacity crowd attended the Wednesday night community safety meeting hosted by the Neighborhood Safety Alliance at the Magnolia United Church of Christ, with about 300 people in attendance. Photo by Genesee Martin
A capacity crowd attended the Wednesday night community safety meeting hosted by the Neighborhood Safety Alliance at the Magnolia United Church of Christ, with about 300 people in attendance. Photo by Genesee Martin
Nearly a dozen city officials faced an angry crowd of more than 300 Magnolia, Ballard, Queen Anne and North Seattle residents on Wednesday, Jan. 6, during a Neighborhood Safety Alliance (NSA) meeting at the Magnolia United Church of Christ (3555 W. McGraw St.). Neighbors voiced anger and frustration over apparent inaction and a lack of a response from the mayor’s office, the Seattle City Council and the police department to what they called blatant lawlessness in their communities.

Representatives of each of the four neighborhood districts presented a list of reports, personal accounts and pictures of criminal activity, as well as accused law enforcement of what they reported as a standing order to “stand down” when it comes to lawless behavior.

“This is what we’re asking for tonight: We want a moratorium on all RV parking, coupled with a safe RV parking lot where our homeless neighbors have garbage disposal, where they have human-waste disposal, where they have fresh water,” said Harley Lever, representing the Magnolia community. “Get the criminals away from neighborhoods. We do not want to criminalize the homeless. We want this done immediately. You have the resources, you have the reports and it’s the same model as the tent cities.”

Another representative, Gary Hunter, stated that it could be accomplished by an executive order from the mayor’s office and that residents wanted a commitment from city officials to approve such an order by Monday, Jan. 11.

 

Answering rumors

According to NSA representatives, it was the newly formed group’s first meeting, in an effort to offer solutions and obtain answers from city officials on how to best address their concerns.

Seattle City Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw and Mike O’Brien joined representatives of law enforcement, including Assistant Chief of the Patrol Bureau Steve Wilske, West Precinct Capt. Chris Fowler and Department of Neighborhoods representative Laurie Ames. In addition, Scott Lindsay, public safety advisor with the mayor’s office, and Sola Plumacher, senior advisor of human services also from the mayor’s office also attended. Mayor Ed Murray was not attendance, despite an invitation.

“The question now is, why are we so frustrated? Why is there nobody listening to us?” Cindy Pierce of NSA said.

She reported there had been a 57-percent increase in property damage, which includes vehicle theft, car prowls, burglaries and theft of property.

She explained that the feedback from the communities had been so strong that the NSA had been formed to address the issue. Chief among the complaints were illegal parking of RVs, motorhomes, trailers and other vehicles; illegal dumping, including what was described as toxic waste; drug dealing; and vandalism, including graffiti.

The most distressing report to those in attendance was often-repeated accounts of police officers, including a sergeant, stating that their hands were tied and that they had been ordered to stand down on those types of crimes.

Lever stated that when his TV was stolen out of his house, he found it in the back of a truck at a local shopping center, but when he confronted the thieves, they threatened to hurt him. Calling 911, he was told that no officers were available and was advised to leave the area. When officers did arrive, he was told they could not do anything about the thieves because their hands were tied.

An apparent influx of homeless — many living in RVs, motorhomes and trailers — was linked to an increase in crimes, with residents reporting that drugs were sold out of the vehicles. However, when victims reported such crimes to police, there was often no response or police presence, leading many individuals to contact their district representatives at the City Council and the mayor’s office. According to dozens of residents attending the meeting, those concerns were often completely ignored.

“What I can tell you is I have not and I would not tell officers to ignore the type of crime that you are talking about here. This was a rumor that came up first at the North Precinct, and I addressed it with the officers, with the chain of command,” Wilske told the crowd. “I and the officers here have a responsibility to do constitutional policing — that’s the way it is, folks. I will not tell officers to arrest somebody unless they can develop what we call probable cause for it. The fact that this rumor is still out there, I am going to address it again tomorrow morning.”

He explained that he was the one who issued directives to officers.

 

‘Enabling’ the homeless?

Despite outlining what was to be an orderly meeting, it quickly degraded into a shouting match, with audience members yelling accusations and demands at city officials, as well as booing. One of the biggest issues came when O’Brien attempted to explain what homeless families and individuals faced, reporting that with the city’s declaration of civil emergency over homelessness came $7 million in funds, which would be used to provide such services as portable restrooms and areas for showering. His explanation prompted several audience members to state that the city was “enabling them.”

“I heard the story of the woman who was at the park and saw the human waste. When there is human waste on the sidewalk, that is not someone committing a crime — that is someone who doesn’t have access to a bathroom,” O’Brien stated. “And I’m not going to arrest someone because they do not have access to a bathroom.”

O’Brien explained that folks living in RVs do not have a lot of money for trash pickup, which incited another woman to state that it “was not about the homeless.” Yet another woman yelled that it was about crime.

The woman who related the story about seeing human waste at a park stood and addressed O’Brien, reporting that there is a restroom not 50 feet from where she made the discovery, to which O’Brien stated that the park restrooms were locked at night, preventing their use.

The back-and-forth continued with O’Brien stating that parking lots and property were being identified for RVs, motorhomes and other vehicles to stay. He asked what audience members would say if the city came to their area about having a parking lot for the RVs and motorhomes there; his question was not answered.

 

Time to ‘make real strides’

O’Brien said that the police were not going to arrest someone because they were poor.

“Sixty days ago, we declared an emergency — that’s given us enough time, I would think, to begin to make real strides,” Bagshaw said. “I want people to be safe. I want the RVs that have families in them to be at a place where they can have showers, that they can have port-a-johns, can get running water. [But] the drug dealers, I have absolutely no patience for.”

O’Brien agreed to have an answer on whether an executive order was possible. However, the city attorney explained that laws are already in place, noting that removing the RVs, motorhomes and other vehicles would not be legal and that current laws would need to be looked at before such as action could be approved.

The NSA is planning a public hearing in coming weeks, at a place and time to be announced.

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