East Precinct safety project in limbo

Last fall, when, during the 2004 budget process the City Council earmarked $430,000 for public safety in the East Precinct, there was hope among Capitol Hill safety activists that months of effort would pay off. After spending most of the summer bringing the recurring problems taking place around Cal Anderson Park to the attention of the city's elected officials it appeared a tangible result had been obtained.

The many voices who put the issue of Cal Anderson Park under the council's radar were hoping to establish a fully dedicated bicycle patrol at the East Precinct. When the City Council directed the money for the East Precinct, the bike squad seemed closer at hand. Included in that total, $30,000 was targeted to fund the Capitol Hill case manager position held by Randy Nelson. Nelson, who works for Street Outreach Services, is highly regarded for his work with street youth and has the virtually unanimous support of the community.

But not so fast. While still a possibility, the fully dedicated bicycle patrol is not a sure thing.

In November, the council issued a Statement of Legislative Intent, which put the money in reserve and directed the Seattle Neighborhood Group and the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) to "develop and execute a program to increase public safety in the East Precinct." The intention was to include the participation of the various community stakeholders within the East Precinct, gather information and input and then present this information to the City Council on Feb. 17. A decision by the council to release the money would, presumably, be made then.

Additionally, the funding itself is by no means a sure thing. In 1999, the city started charging City Light rate payers for lighting street lights. The state Supreme Court ruled this practice illegal, creating a $6 million hole in the budget the mayor signed last fall. As a result, there has been a freeze on all new funding until the issue is resolved. All the money could be released to fund the East Precinct public safety project, or a smaller portion of it.

But it is possible that, despite the City Council's stated intent last November, no funding for the safety project will be provided at all.

Discussion, process

At the East Precinct Crime Prevention Coalition meeting, held on Thursday, Jan. 22, community input for a possible public safety project was sought.

"It's a pretty broad mandate, and we don't have a lot of time," said Bob Scales from the city's OPM and one of those charged with presenting options to the council. He said he is proceeding as if the money, or some portion of it, will be released.

Scales passed out a list of the major crime hotspots in the East Precinct. Included on it were drug dealing, loitering, public inebriates and chronic homelessness on Broadway and in the park. But the list also included burglaries on Lake Union houseboats, shootings and prostitution near 20th and Madison and assaults near Garfield High school, among many others.

"The city needs to take this list seriously," said Steve Shulman, who helped form the coalition 17 years ago. "I haven't seen it this bad in years. Please take this list to heart."

Scales made it clear that part of the challenge was creating a safety project that would appeal to the many communities that make up the East Precinct. When Scales asked for possible solutions, calls for a bicycle patrol received repeated mention.

"A bike patrol has had a positive influence in recent months," said Gary Clark.

"If you can make it harder for people to do drug-related business, violent crimes will go down," said one man wearing a "Save our Bike Patrol" sticker. The bike squad was repeatedly promoted for its flexibility and its ability to be a visible presence in the community.

Future funding also was discussed, an issue of great importance since the $430,000 is a one- time contribution; any project funded by this money would require an additional funding source if it were to continue in 2005 and beyond. A model used in the U-District, where the business community raised more than $200,000 to increase police foot patrols along University Way, was suggested as an approach the city would like to encourage to continue any public safety program it might fund in 2004. Ideas proposed included reaching out to local businesses and institutions. But one man pointed out that, unlike the University District, there are fewer major businesses and institutions upon which to draw for such potential contributions.

"The mayor needs to put his money where his rhetoric is," said one man.

After the meeting, Scales acknowledged that the funding was a major question mark. He was proceeding under the assumption that there would be an East Precinct safety project and was planning to present options to the City Council on Feb. 17. Even assuming the money is released, he noted that the council wants to hear about projects that can be funded successfully. A dedicated bike squad of eight officers and one sergeant, he said, can use up $400,000 pretty quickly and might not be the way the council chooses to proceed.

"We heard about three main concerns: More police presence, community building and then greater human services. So I'm thinking about proposals that satisfy these main categories. The final result would have something from each of these areas," Scales said.

In response to the notion that efforts to secure a dedicated bicycle patrol were what pushed the council to create a public safety project in the first place, Scales said that his office's mandate was wide open.

"I was given a task by the City Council, and it wasn't to come up with a plan for a bike patrol - it was more general than that. We're working on a plan to improve public safety. A bike patrol is one possibility," he said.

But, Scales added, he was certain that the bike squad is one of the options that will be presented.

Brad Trenary, who led efforts to bring safety issues at Cal Anderson Park to official attention and helped establish the Friends of Cal Anderson Park advocacy group, was not pleased that the money is on hold.

"I am disappointed with the current state of the funding we sought from the City Council," he said. "I am disappointed with Mayor Nickels and his freezing of the funds for the bike patrol and for Randy Nelson's position. I am frustrated that we must now enter yet another process."

Trenary felt the process was something of an excuse that could be used by the mayor or City Council to keep the funds frozen if a project could not be agreed upon. However, Trenary, and others, have no intention of letting the issue drop.

"The people at the meeting seemed highly motivated," he said. "There is good energy behind seeing this through."

A second meeting to discuss uses for the $430,000 takes place on Thursday, Jan. 29, at 6:30 p.m. at the Seattle Vocational Institute, 2120 S. Jackson St, Room 101.

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at 461-1308 or editor@capitolhilltimes.com


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