We truly hope the new police chief, Kathleen O’Toole, will bring some needed changes to the realm of crime and safety here in Seattle town, especially in the Chinatown-International District, which has seen a spate of violence of late. Beyond the increasing number of purse and cell phone snatchings, a couple of recent shootings in the ID have got people a little bit on edge.
During the day, the ID is normally a bustling mini-world of colorful Asian culture, home to the many languages of tourists, shoppers, children, and elders talking and laughing as they make their way up and down the streets, lingering in the parks, and even listening to live music. It feels safe and friendly. After dark, however, there are certain parts you just don’t want to go near — specifically unlit street corners and doorways, and those dark, garbage-strewn alleys. There are also occasional groupings of people, usually young males (politely referred to as “opportunity youth”), between where you are and where you need to be, that can be scary to walk past after the sun goes down.
Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell, who is chair of the public safety committee, sent out a notice recently expressing his confidence that Chief O’Toole has earned an international reputation for her ability to “work with communities from the ground up to reduce crime in urban neighborhoods.” The City Council wrote a letter of expectations for the new chief, asking for progress in several areas, including “Build community relationships and trust in all neighborhoods with a consistent visible presence.”
In the ID and communities of color throughout the city, building trust is huge. A consistent visible presence can work against that trust unless police officers make an effort to interact with citizens in a nonthreatening way. More officers of color also would help to promote a feeling of trust. It doesn’t help that these days police officers have to wear so much body armor, supplies, and weaponry that they are sometimes barely recognizable as human.
A culture will only change, said Harrell, if the leader is fully committed to improvement. This is what we will watch for in our new police chief. (end)