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Seattle councilmember envisions new downtown ‘safe for everybody’

Downtown Seattle. (SDOT, Flickr Creative Commons)

Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis may not have a quick fix for downtown violence, but he sees his recently unveiled proposal as a first step.

Seattle councilmember proposes solution to downtown violence

Lewis represents District 7, which encompasses Seattle’s downtown core all the way up to Magnolia. His idea would have the downtown area opening up what’s known as a Community Storefront, where non-commissioner officers could help deescalate situations that are overtaxing the city’s police department.

“They’re trained to deal with any number of currently difficult situations that sworn officers deal with on a regular basis, but might not be the best use of the sworn officer’s time,” Lewis told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross on Seattle’s Morning News.

Lewis cites any number of incidents in the downtown core that may not qualify as a crime worthy of a 911 call, but still require some sort of intervention.

“Just to give you an example, I see a lot of folks downtown that are in a state of perhaps a behavioral mental health crisis,” he described. “They might be talking to themselves very loudly. It might be really clear that they’re under some kind of duress, but they might not … be committing any particular crime. It’s not necessarily a crime to talk to yourself very loudly, but clearly they’re in crisis, and they need some assistance.”

There’s where a Community Service Officer would step in to intervene, deescalate any potential conflict, and then direct that person in crisis toward the assistance they might need.

And while the measure wouldn’t necessarily be designed to combat shootings, Lewis hopes that it can at least create a safer environment that doesn’t invite violence.

“Third and Pine is … an ecosystem, where there’s this milieu of … incivility and low-level criminal activity,” he detailed. “That creates an environment where things like what happened on Wednesday can happen.”

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“Folks like the people that shot up Third and Pine, they blend in to that ecosystem that just kind of festers and stays there, without some kind of active intervention to make sure that you don’t have a system where folks can blend in and hide,” Lewis continued.

Seattle actually had a similar system in place roughly 20 years ago that was eliminated due to budget cuts. Now, the city hopes to have at least 18 new CSO’s trained and ready to hit the streets by the end of 2020.

“I am not arguing that this is going to be the one thing that solves the entire problem,” said Lewis. “I’m just arguing that this is one thing that we can do to create new incentives to redefine the ecosystem and to start proactively moving toward a different Third and Pine that’s safe for everybody.”

Listen to the Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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