A crowd of Seattleites concerned about public safety joined Mayor Ed Murray and the city's new chief of police, Kathleen O'Toole, on a walk through the Central District last night.
The so-called "Find-it-Fix-it" walk was the first of five planned during what Murray has termed a "Summer of Safety." About 80 people strolled with the mayor, the chief, a cadre of city officials and a handful of television cameras. They traveled a roughly mile-long route that ran along South Jackson and South King streets between 22nd Avenue and 29th Avenue South.
"This type of stuff is good," said Aaron Parker, a branch manager for Therapeutic Health Services, an organization that provides a variety of programs designed to help people with mental illnesses and addiction problems. Parker said that he lives in the area and noted changing demographics. The walk, he believed, was a good way to build ties within the community as it deals with public safety issues. "People may say: 'you look a little different than me, but clearly you're concerned and clearly I'm concerned.' "
During the walk, representatives from city agencies provided information to participants about who to contact about issues like graffiti and illegal dumping. Some of the walkers also filled out surveys as they toured with the city officials. They were asked to note information about things like the quality of the street lighting, the location of abandoned businesses and areas where people commonly congregate.
"If people see we're out here and visible, more people will come the next time," said O'Toole, who has led the police department for about two weeks now. Asked how she was liking the new job, she said: "I love it." But she also said it has been busy and that she was sporting sunglasses to disguise tired eyes. Since her nomination, O'Toole has emphasized her commitment to working with neighborhoods to address public safety issues. "You can't sit behind a desk in headquarters and get a good perspective on the community," she said.
City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who chairs the committee that oversees public safety, and City Attorney Pete Holmes also joined the walk, as did Fire Chief Gregory Dean and East Precinct Capt. Pierre Davis.
Davis is from the neighborhood, and his family has run a barbecue restaurant on Yesler Way for decades. "It shouldn't be a rarity," he said, referring to the walk. He added: "We're taking our marching orders from the community. They're tired of crime."
A crowd listens to Seattle police Capt. John Hayes during Wednesday's Find-it-Fix-it walk in the Central District. Photo: Bill Lucia
Born and raised in the Central District, Csinthea Davis (no relation to Capt. Davis) now lives in Columbia City. Walking near 27th Avenue South, she said that over the years, she has seen parts of the neighborhood deteriorate and is concerned about recent episodes of violence. "I want to be a part of changing that," she said. In her view, the opportunities available to local youth have changed. Recalling a beauty school that used to teach cosmetology and a bakery that had closed down, she said, "There were businesses."
Former south precinct Capt. John Hayes, who is now handling community outreach in the department's Compliance and Professional Standards Bureau, also came out for Wednesday's event. Hayes said that he had led between 10 and 15 similar walks in the south precinct. "We went to where the homicides were occurring, where fights were, areas heavy with prostitution," he said earlier in the day. "Where neighbors were at wit's end."
The walks, Hayes said, give community members a place to discuss issues like violence and community improvements. "It made a huge difference in community pride," he said.
"It's something you got to keep going," Hayes added. "You don't always need the chief or the mayor."
Standing in the parking lot of the Red Apple Market on South Jackson Street after the walk, Murray acknowledged that the walk in itself was not a panacea. "It's a start," he said. "People came out. It's another tool in the toolbox of public safety."
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