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Seattle is using food trucks to fight crime

The Seattle Department of Transportation has recently designated Westlake Park and the Pike St Hill Climb as food truck locations to try and bring in positive activity in areas that experience illegal activity. (AP)

A downtown shopping mecca, Seattle’s Westlake Center is tourist central. But Westlake Park is often full of dozens of scruffy teenagers
that sometimes intimidate people walking by.

“People hanging out, smoking weed, not doing a whole lot of anything,” says Isaac Wallick, a Nordstrom employee who works nearby. “I would try and avoid it, just because it was kind of a little awkward to be around.”

So the city came up with a plan: food trucks. Food trucks selling banh mi and poutine and korean tacos line the streets at lunchtime in South Lake Union, but there aren’t many designated truck zones downtown. So two months ago, SDOT designated 4th and Pine and the Pike Street Hill Climb as food truck zones to strategically try and bring in some positive activity.

“These are areas where we had different sorts of problems over the years where the city has really been making a concerted effort to increase police presence, do some maintenance work, just clean things up a little bit,” said Jennifer Wieland, manager of SDOT’s Public Space Management Program. “So adding an element of positive activity is a way to, not necessarily disperse, but counteract some of the negative behaviors that we see.”

Derrick Ellis is the co-owner of Lumpia World, a Japanese/Island/Fillipino fusion truck that jumped at the opportunity to set up at Westlake Center.

“It harnesses community. You’re outside and it’s just a different atmosphere. So yes, I fully feel that it supports that vision as far as improving the area because now you have more people that are coming out that may not have been coming out before.”

Derrick’s wife, chef and co-owner Eleaner Ellis, says they’ve been getting lunchtime crowds of up to 100 people on Fridays.

“People are so nice here. We don’t have any problem with the other folks that are here. We feed them. You know, sometimes we see folks going through the trash cans, grabbing whatever they can grab. We always feed those. I’m just hoping there’s no mess. That’s the after effect of it. But at the same time it’s kind of hard to see somebody digging from the trash.”

It’s only been about seven weeks, but is SDOT’s plan working?

“I think it’s probably a little early to have seen a marked change. What we have been really excited about is that we haven’t received any complaints. I will say that some of the businesses around here were a little bit nervous that if we added something to this side of the street, it would displace some of the negative behaviors and move them back to the opposite side. We haven’t heard anything like that happening. We haven’t received any complaints about trash. So I would say up to this point, we do think it’s been a success.”

Right now they have trucks out at these spots two or three days a week, but they want to expand to five days. So if you’re one of Seattle’s 100 food trucks, and you’re looking for a new location, click here for a link to an application.

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