Rantz: Seattle homeless camp, courthouse so dangerous that sheriff orders staff to work remotely

Aug 3, 2021, 11:31 AM | Updated: 2:39 pm
City Hall Park...
The homeless encampment at City Hall Park continues to deteriorate. (Photo: Jason Rantz/KTTH)
(Photo: Jason Rantz/KTTH)

The homeless encampment next to the King County Courthouse in Seattle is so dangerous that Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht is ordering most of her professional staff members to work 100% remotely.

Johanknecht cites the “unsafe environment around the courthouse, administration, parking garage, and corrections facilities,” along with labor union concerns, as contributing factors in her decision. The announcement was made in a Monday memo to office staff. The King County Sheriff’s Office is located in the courthouse in downtown Seattle.

The move comes days after a homeless man was charged after allegedly attempting to rape a seven-month pregnant woman in a county courthouse bathroom.

Next door, City Hall Park has become overrun with homeless people. It’s been the site of a stabbing homicide, a brutal kicking-death of a senior citizen’s dog, a recent fatal drug overdose, and frequent assaults. The City of Seattle refuses to sweep the encampment as community activists claim all sweeps are inhumane.

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The move back to 100% remote work

The decision by Johanknecht impacts staff members who do not regularly interact with the public.

“The safety and security of our employees is my top priority. Effectively immediately, due to the unsafe environment around the courthouse, administration, parking garage and corrections facilities, and concerns from labor unions, we are returning to 100% remote telework for professional staff members who do not routinely interact with the public,” Johanknecht wrote.

Any public-facing employees or other designated employees who will be required to continue to come into the office will be notified by their supervisors.

The sheriff says she’ll hold a digital meeting with the employees who will still come to the office so she can address their concerns directly.

Short- and long-term solutions on the horizon?

Like the 33 superior court judges who sent a letter to the City of Seattle demanding solutions to the clear danger posed by the encampment, Johanknecht says she intends to have more meetings with county leaders to discuss short and long term safety solutions for the courthouse and surrounded area.

“I am committed to doing all we can to make sure this [is] a safe workplace,” she explained.

Things have become so dire that even an influential Democrat on the King County Council is getting involved, with Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles reportedly offering a property swap with Seattle.

“If we were to own the park, then we can make use of it as we see fit, including for security,” Kohl-Welles told KOMO TV. “Maybe the best way to do that is engage in a trade of property so we would acquire City Hall Park and in the process be able to have the City of Seattle receive some property that we own.”

Only Republican members Reagan Dunn and Kathy Lambert have treated the issue with urgency until this point. Dunn recently called on local leaders to limit access to all county buildings in the downtown Seattle court complex to cut down on potential threats.

The message this sends

You cannot overstate the message this staffing decision sends.

It’s so dangerous in downtown Seattle in and around the courthouse, thanks to the out-of-control homelessness crisis and park that looks like a third-world country, that not even non-commissioned staff working for a law enforcement agency are safe. Staff at the courthouse and jurors, plaintiffs, and defendants are equally unsafe. And the city does nothing.

While Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office prefers sweeps, they’re hamstrung in large part by a lack of political leadership too scared to take on area activists, and a City Council who will not allow sweeps to occur. Thanks to ideologues like Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda, two councilmembers up for re-election, the homelessness crisis has worsened.

They continue to blame COVID and a lack of affordable housing for the crisis. That’s the excuse of incompetent leaders. Homeless people aren’t stabbing, fighting, attempting rape, and killing the dogs of seniors because of a pandemic or rent that’s too high. We know which approaches work. But they don’t happen to align with a stubborn and recalcitrant socialist and progressive council. People are dying and suffering as a result of the council’s inaction.

It used to be that I’d say on my afternoon radio show that it could take a murder or a rape to change things. I was clearly wrong. We’ve had a murder and an attempted rape already. Unfortunately, the city council remains disinterested in leading on this with solutions.

Did you like this opinion piece? Then listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz  on  Twitter,  Instagram, and Parler, and like me on Facebook

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Rantz: Seattle homeless camp, courthouse so dangerous that sheriff orders staff to work remotely