Rantz: Seattle business owners turn to private security as crime rises, police staffing dwindles

Jun 3, 2024, 5:55 PM | Updated: 6:35 pm

Seattle business crime...

A Triple Canopy vehicle patrolling the Eastlake neighborhood of Seattle. (Photo: Jason Rantz, KTTH)

(Photo: Jason Rantz, KTTH)

With a severely depleted Seattle Police Department (SPD), business owners are forced to pay for private security to help deter crime. Collectively, businesses are spending millions extra just to operate in Seattle.

At least a half dozen times a day, a Triple Canopy Security vehicle cruises around the Bonneville Seattle offices. The security drivers patrol up and down the quiet side streets and busy Eastlake Avenue East. They don’t provide security for Bonneville, the parent company of KTTH, but employees here benefit.

A security guard with Triple Canopy Security told “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH that the firm was hired by one of the labs doing work in the Eastlake neighborhood. They patrol throughout the day and early evening because many of the employees park on the surface streets. The security guard, who wasn’t speaking on behalf of the company, said it’s meant to show a presence in the neighborhood to cut down on property crime and theft.

The patrols have been working.

Before the security patrols, car break-ins were a common occurrence. Two blocks north, a restaurant recently suffered a 23rd break-in, with the restaurant owner telling “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH that he’s “lost all faith in the city.” But after security patrols, anecdotally, there have been fewer crimes reported. In the last seven days, there was just one motor vehicle theft in the general area, according to the SPD crime dashboard.

How much are Seattle business owners spending on security to deter crime?

The Downtown Seattle Association’s (DSA) Jon Scholes told “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH that businesses are spending more on security than ever.

Contracted security costs have also skyrocketed. In March, downtown Seattle building owners said private security costs rose between 40% and 400%, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal. The Metropolitan Improvement District itself spends $2 million on contracted security. 

“The private sector in Seattle is spending millions of dollars a year to attempt to compensate for the negative impacts to public safety from the defund police movement,” Scholes explained to “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH.

Erin Goodman of the SODO Business Improvement Area mirrored the sentiment, explaining more businesses have turned to private security because of crime. 

“With property crime continuing to be a significant issue in SODO, hiring private security is a necessary reality for many of the businesses and properties in this area,” Goodman told “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH.

Not all Seattle businesses can afford the added expense

Some business owners reluctantly pay for the added security for the safety and retention of their employees. But the business environment in Seattle is already exceeding difficult and expensive. 

For some Seattle business owners, the extra expense is not sustainable even if it helps cut down on crime.

Trevor Boone owns Emerald City Guitars in Pioneer Square. He used to pay for private security, but because of the cost, has had to be selective in how it’s used. He relied on local construction workers who would tip him off if they noticed suspicious-looking people casing his shop.

“We take those tips super seriously. And we obviously can’t, you know, nobody’s going to help you out down here. I mean, there’s no help,” Boone told “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH. “So when we do get these tips, we’ve had to hire private security guys that will stay the night here. We did this a few times where it’s three days or something. We leave the shop, and they come in and stay the night, a few people. And I mean, three days is $10,000.”

Seattle is a ‘third-world country’ at night

Boone said it’s relatively safe during the day, but at night it becomes a “third-world country.” He said it’s not uncommon for businesses to have to replace broken windows several times a month.

“I’ve talked to other shops in West Seattle, North Seattle. It’s all the same stuff happening in these areas, truly, and it’s just that everybody wants to be quiet about it. No, news channels are showing what’s going on,” Boone said.

Emerald City Guitars has seen significant security upgrades making it considerably more difficult to burglarize. But the costs all add up.

“There’s not a lot of places that either can afford (security), even get close to affording to put any extra money in anything besides trying to keep their doors open, and replace their windows. And from what I’ve gathered from Pioneer Square (Alliance), they have a couple of guys walking around with pepper spray. It’s hardly effective,” Boone said. 

Why are Seattle businesses turning to private security?

Businesses have been forced to turn to private security to mitigate the consequences of an understaffed police department. At only 913 deployable officers, the SPD says staffing is at the lowest level since 2009.

As officers left the SPD, property crime and vandalism surged. 

The SPD confirmed an April 2024 exclusive report that it only had 424 police officers working patrol as of December 31. Of the 424 officers, at least 66 are currently eligible for retirement, and 84 are over 50, according to a Human Resources document obtained by “The Jason Rantz Show” on KTTH. Patrol is rounded out with 11 police student officers, 22 lieutenants and 76 sergeants.

The staffing crisis is supposed to continue to worsen in 2024. Making recruiting more difficult? SPD chief Adrian Diaz was forced out of his position thanks to a coordinated campaign of aggrieved SPD staffers and allies in the mayor’s office amplified claims of a toxic environment. 

Listen to “The Jason Rantz Show” on 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 Jason on X, formerly known as TwitterInstagram, and  Facebook.

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