Federal and local law enforcement agencies crack down on downtown.
at 1:14pm by David Kroman
Mayor Ed Murray, Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and federal law enforcement officials today unveiled Operation Crosstown Traffic, a joint effort between local and federal law enforcement officials to identify suspected drug dealers and thieves frequenting the downtown retail core.
Officers have been working, largely undercover, for four months, compiling a list of 186 suspects so far. As of Thursday morning, police had arrested 95 people; 37 have received federal indictments, said Acting U.S. Attorney Anette L. Hayes.
The announcement comes in tandem with the city’s new 9 1/2 block strategy, reported by the Seattle Times on Wednesday, which will bump up the number of foot and bike cops on the downtown beat.
The call for this kind of action has been surprisingly uniform. A letter sent last October, urging the Seattle City Council to increase downtown police presence, was signed by both local businesses and advocates for the homeless, including Real Change Newspaper and King County’s Committee to End Homelessness.
Last March, the Downtown Seattle Association asked for $20 million from the city to clean up the area between Pike Place Market and Capitol Hill’s Melrose Market.
“It’s important we don’t confuse mental health and homelessness with criminal activity,” said Murray. In enforcing the 9 1/2 block strategy, the city will lean heavily on its new Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program (LEAD), which aims to divert low-level offenders into mental health and rehabilitation service instead of jail.
Last year, said Murray, the retail core experienced eight to 12 incidents a day, largely drug deals and property crime. Suspects identified by Operation Crosstown Traffic and the 9 1/2 block strategy will not be allowed back into the Pike/Pine downtown corridor.
There remain several unanswered questions: Will the drug market simply move elsewhere? How will officers recognize citizens facing legal bans from downtown? How many new officers and dollars are necessary to make the plan work?
With May Day approaching — an often contentious time in Seattle — O’Toole made sure to point out that there had been no use of force in the 95 arrests.