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Most dangerous place in Seattle? The King County Courthouse

The King County Courthouse has been plagued with crime and unsanitary problems for years, but court employees say the magnitude has dramatically spiked in recent months. (penjelly, Flickr)
LISTEN: Most dangerous place in Seattle? The King County Courthouse

If you ever want to take a walk on the wild side, stroll down to the King County Courthouse around noon on a weekday.

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King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that the prominent government building, located on Third Avenue just off the touristy Pioneer Square, is the worst spot in the city for violent behavior.

“The courthouse should be the center of civilization for a county, but there is no more dangerous part of the city of Seattle or King County than the area between the Seattle City Hall and the King County Courthouse during the daytime,” von Reichbauer said.

Last summer, a homeless man brandishing a pair of scissors tried to attack King County Sheriff John Urquhart right outside of the courthouse.

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“The courthouse should be the one place everybody can come to and feel safe because it is a center of justice,” von Reichbauer said. “Right now, our courthouse area is ground zero. If you think it looks bad, it also smells bad, because people there use it as a public bathroom.”

Urquhart’s scare was not a one-time occurrence; von Reichbauer said that people are routinely accosted during the day walking to and from the courthouse, including jurors on their lunch-breaks who are getting paid just $10 per day. Von Reichbauer believes that those jurors “deserve hazard pay” for the risks that they take in simply coming to the courthouse every day.

To avoid the costs of restoring the current 102-year-old courthouse, Von Reichbauer has proposed combining the courthouse and the county’s current administration building, which is located on the safer Fourth Avenue, thereby creating one large campus on the Fourth Avenue site. Von Reichbauer suggests funding the move by selling the King County Courthouse to a company that builds condos, such as Urban Visions.

There is no question of moving the courthouse out of Seattle. Von Reichbauer explained that according to state law, the courthouse must be in the largest city in the county, the county seat.

“We’ve got to change the culture here,” he said. “We’ve created a beehive that attracts [homeless] people up and down the coast to come to Seattle because everything is free.”

It is the city’s laws that control how safe the streets are, von Reichbauer said, and only a change in culture will change how the Seattle government creates policy for its downtown streets.

Von Reichbauer was born and raised in Seattle, but he no longer recognizes the city that surrounds him.

“The city that I grew up with, that I was born in, is totally different,” he said. “We’ve got to change the culture by changing elected officials.”

The current situation downtown, he said, is out of control.

“The animals have taken control of the streets,” von Reichbauer said.

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