Seattle police cracking down on ‘low-level’ downtown crimes with special team of officers

SEATTLE –Public drinking, drug dealing and other petty crimes are common problems in any big city.

But some business owners worry that criminals are chasing away tourists, and some who work and live downtown now want to get out of the neighborhood.

Now the Seattle Police Department has assigned a special team to take back the city.

Seven new officers are now dedicated to walking the streets in the downtown core.

Viola Pike’s clothing boutique sits at 2nd and Pine; she said homeless people and drug users often frightens her customers away.

“It scares customers sometimes,” she said. “I’ve had customers tell me they’re scared to come sometimes because of that.”

The new neighborhood response team will try connecting drug abusers and the mentally ill with social services programs instead of carting them off to jail.

Resident Mark Smith said drug dealers hound him the moment he walks out his front door. Even with SPD’s new program, Smith believes the effort might not be enough to keep him downtown.

“What am I going to do? I’m looking to moving to another area,” he said.

The new squad hits the streets from 6:30 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon, but Pike said the team should be walking the beat all day long.

“If they’re only patrolling until 3 it doesn’t do us much good because most of our traffic comes between 3 and 6,” she said. “That’s our busiest time.”

The department said the operating hours could change depending on when and where the officers are needed most.

It also said these officers they won’t be responding to routine 911 calls -- instead their goal is to keep the squad focused on problems on downtown streets.