This morning, a group of neighborhood and business leaders testified at the city council's Special Budget Committee that their neighborhoods are falling victim to "street disorder," while asking the council to reinstate $2.4 million in public safety funding—or 26 police officer positions—cut by Mayor Mike McGinn's budget proposal.
But the real point of their testimony, as well as a letter (.pdf) sent yesterday to the council and signed by 12 of business leaders—including Don Blakeney, Executive Director of the Chinatown-ID Business Improvement Area, Leslie "No Hobo" Smith, the Executive Director of the Alliance for Pioneer Square, and Michael "Bench Killer" Wells, Executive Director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce—seemed to be more about pushing civility laws onto Seattle streets*.
For example, the letter acknowledges that "major crime is down citywide" but also argues that residents are "frustrated with rising criminal activity in our respective neighborhoods," (without, uh, citing any) hence the call for more cops. And not just for more cops—but more cops with broader arrest powers:
Many of us hear that officers feel as though they do not have the legal tools to enforce uncivil behavior and other quality-of-life crimes. While the City Attorney has openly declared drug prosecution to be a very low priority, open-air drug markets flourish.
Let's break down this paragraph into its various stupid parts for easy digestion, shall we?
*Aside from calling for more officers, the letter suggests SPD implement "hot spot" policing—which the department already does—and switching up how officers are distributed throughout the city. Again.
1) These people "hear" that officers don't have the "legal tools to enforce uncivil behavior," huh?
Seattle residents have been calling for more police accountability for the past year. A DOJ investigation into the police department's treatment of minority suspects is ongoing. Aside from the fact that you can't arrest away pervasive social problems like poverty and mental illness, now is a stupid time to suggest giving police more power to arrest people at their own discretion.
2) "While the City Attorney has openly declared drug prosecution to be a very low priority..."
City Attorney spokeswoman Kimberly Mills says, "That's simply not true on several levels. Initiative 75 was passed by the citizens of this city to make marijuana prosecution a very low priority, which is why Pete Holmes said that we aren’t going to prosecute simple possession. He has never openly declared it to be a low priority. Oh, and it's not our business to prosecute drug crimes—that’s the King County Prosecutor’s Office."
3)"...open-air drug markets flourish."
"Our narcotics team is as busy as ever," says SPD spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, who has no data to support the business group's claim that drug markets are flourishing (and they have yet to return my calls). He adds: "We'll be rolling out our Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program very, very soon."
4) "Creative legislative policy is needed here."
Whitcomb: "You can’t just look at someone on the street and say, 'I think they’re a drug dealer' and arrest them. You have to have evidence to support it. There have to be multiple cases, not just one observed hand to hand contact—unless they're advocating that we should do illegal searches? Violate peoples rights? In areas known for drug dealing, we have to collect enough info to give us probable cause to conduct a search."
5) And finally: "It is an unfair burden on businesses and residents to be forced to co-habit with blatant criminal activity."
Eeeeeks! You're sleeping on a bench in my neighborhood! You're infringing on the quality of my life and/or business!
The letter mentions a few great reasons to preserve funding for more officers—our population is growing, drugs are a pervasive problem in some neighborhoods, and despite great crime statistics overall, aggressive assault is on the rise in Seattle. But it doesn't coherently address those problems—instead it whines about civility, which the police department can't, and shouldn't, be policing.