Downtown Seattle group spends $564,000 on private security, more to come for 3rd Avenue

Feb 1, 2022, 5:05 AM | Updated: 10:29 am
private security...
Police respond after five people were shot near Pine Street and Third Avenue in 2016. (Getty Images, File photo)
(Getty Images, File photo)

As a response to the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) reported staffing shortage, the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA), via a community levy referred to as a Business Improvement Area (BIA), hired a private security firm, Iron and Oak, to provide public safety support to Third Avenue between Stewart and Union.

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The Metropolitan Improvement District (MID), one of nine BIAs in Seattle, spent $564,000 on private security for the downtown area in the previous fiscal year, between June 2020 and August 2021.

In total, $314,000 was allocated for private security of Westlake Park and Occidental Square — parks managed by the MID.

“We’ve been contracting SPD officers for emphasis patrols for years, but decreased staffing levels meant SPD couldn’t fill the time slots we needed,” a DSA representative told MyNorthwest. “And we know stretches of Third Avenue need help. Contracting with a private security firm allows us to place a consistent presence along Third, extra sets of eyes that can respond quickly and coordinate with SPD, if public safety needs arise.”

An additional $250,000 was spent on SPD “emphasis patrols,” a process by which BIAs are allowed to contract SPD officers through overtime allowances.

“The contract allows us to fund additional SPD overtime shifts, usually through shift extensions,” a DSA statement further clarifies. “The officers are on duty and working extended or additional Seattle Police patrol or bike shifts in downtown. The MID or DSA does not direct the specific work of officers on these shifts, and the officers do not work for the MID or DSA. They continue to report and answer to their chain of command during these shifts. The contract is a funding mechanism as a means of providing additional SPD patrols in downtown, if and when available.”

SPD reports 948 active officers as of Jan. 10, citing the need for 1,500-1,600 in total to be considered fully staffed.

Iron and Oak was hired in the fall of 2021 for Westlake and Occidental parks. Beginning last December, they were contracted for additional security services along Third Avenue in downtown Seattle.

The security firm is separate from other ways in which the MID provides services to the downtown area. Referred to as “safety ambassadors,” they assist in “providing directions to out-of-towners, aiding downtown’s unsheltered population, [and keeping] downtown safe, welcoming and livable,” per the DSA website.

Other community ambassadors provide sanitation services or specialize in homelessness outreach.

Launched in 2013, the latter meets “unsheltered individuals where they are,” and provides case management “to connect them with services, housing, treatment and employment options.” In the previous fiscal year, the DSA reports connecting 34 people with permanent housing, distributing 1,209 hygiene kits, and enrolling 193 people in case management services. The DSA lauds its launch of the now-failed ballot initiative Compassion Seattle in its annual report.

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Established in 1999, the MID is funded through assessments on property owners in the six neighborhoods which it comprises – Belltown, Denny Triangle, Pioneer Square, Retail Core, Waterfront, and West Edge neighborhoods – a 285-square-block area in total.

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Downtown Seattle group spends $564,000 on private security, more to come for 3rd Avenue