Two violent attacks this summer have galvanized Seattle and Portland efforts to crack down on the perception of downtown lawlessness.
On Sept. 13, Troy Wolff, a 46-year-old English professor at a Seattle community college, was stabbed to death in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square as he walked home from a soccer match.
The Seattle Police Department stepped up patrols and Mayor Mike McGinn asked for 15 more police officers just days after the attack.
In Portland, authorities are hunting for an 18-year-old suspected of striking a 70-year-old sporting goods store clerk with a skateboard 10 blocks from City Hall.
The attack hospitalized the clerk and police grew strict, enforcing city laws that residents and shoppers say were flouted by camps of protesters, loitering minors and homeless people downtown.
“That was the one incident that kind of got the citizens up in arms, saying enough is enough,” said Lt. Mike Marshman of the Portland Police Department.
Seattle police Detective Mark Jamieson said the Pioneer Square stabbing is just the latest call for more street officers, a response often fueled by emotion rather than hard data.
“We could say that crime is at an all-time low, but if the perception is that people don’t feel safe, that’s a problem,” Jamieson said.
Spokane finds itself wrestling with a similar problem as businesses, residents and elected officials want action to combat downtown crime, loitering and noise. Mayor David Condon wants 25 more officers in his own budget proposal and said last week he wanted downtown officers to have more resources to stop crime and fights at night.
The Seattle City Council passed a chronic public nuisance law in 2010. It’s similar to what Spokane passed six years earlier.
The laws in both cities allow police to give owners of property where three or more “nuisance activities” occur – including gang or drug activity, assault, obstructing traffic and other offenses – 60 days to provide the city with a plan to curb those problems or face prohibitive fines and legal action. Seattle uses the ordinance to target apartment complexes and residences, according to annual reports prepared by police.
The Portland changes were followed by a doubling of the number of disorderly conduct arrests in August compared to a year ago.
Marshman couldn’t say whether there was a direct connection.