As city grapples with public safety crisis, Seattle mayor targets ‘sustainable change’
After two months in office, the path toward what Mayor Bruce Harrell calls “one Seattle” has been slow going, but it’s also a goal he says will take time to fully realize.
Harrell entered office in January with a lengthy to-do list and a directive from voters to address what’s viewed by many as a deteriorating public safety situation alongside an escalating homeless crisis. That’s been echoed by residents, business owners in the downtown core, command staff with the police department, and by Harrell himself. To address that, he points out that there won’t be any quick fixes.
“I tell folks that want instant change, I want instant change too — but I want sustainable change,” he told KIRO Newsradio’s Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin. “It can’t just be done at a snap of a finger, but we’re doing everything we can to get our city back on the right track.”
Part of that strategy has played out in the form of aggressively working to clear homeless encampments that are blocking public rights of way. And while that’s an approach that’s had some homeless advocates criticizing a lack of outreach ahead of those removals, Harrell views it as two separate issues, each of which needs to be addressed individually.
“Those are different policies, and I think often people will confuse the two,” he posited. “On the one hand, I’m trying to make sure our sidewalks are safe. On the other hand, I’m trying to make sure everyone is housed.”
“People will criticize our tactics, but our tactics are implicit in our strategy, and our strategy is to get people housed and get our streets safe,” he added.
Speaking to larger public safety concerns, Harrell outlined his hope to address the issue, not just by boosting police staffing, but by ramping up resources across a variety of initiatives.
That will include the formation of a new public safety department focused on “eyes on the ground,” non-lethal response efforts, as well as a planned ballot initiative that would give the city broader authority to pass its own gun safety laws.
“You’re going to hear me speak this year about putting something on a ballot to allow a city to regulate gun safety,” Harrell described. “And I’m not talking about taking anyone’s arms or violating someone’s Second Amendment rights — we’re just talking about what’s done in other states in the country, with the ability for cities to impose reasonable laws that we do not have.”
In terms of police recruiting, he hopes to eventually have roughly 1,400 sworn officers on duty through lateral transfers, new hires out of the academy, and returning officers from extended leave. Harrell plans to announce his choice for SPD’s new permanent chief later in March as well, detailing how his office has been “enjoying a very good relationship” with interim Chief Adrian Diaz so far.
“He’s rising to the occasion,” Harrell said. “We always comply with the charter responsibility of a search — I don’t break those procedures. But I am very pleased with what I’m getting out of him, and I believe he’s a man of high integrity.”
Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.