SPD removes controversial watchtower from parking lot

SEATTLE – A 30-foot-tall police watchtower which had been positioned at a local grocery store has been removed. SPD said its intent was to stem rising crime rates in the South Seattle shopping center.

Seattle Police had installed the mobile tower at the Rainier Valley Square shopping center along Rainier Avenue – but the controversial device has since been removed.

An earlier report said SPD planned to keep the device at the center for up to two weeks. On Friday, crews removed the watchtower.

A police department spokes person says the shopping plaza isn’t just busy for shoppers, it’s also busy for officers. In 2018, the Safeway store had 74 incidents reported to SPD while this year to date has seen 123 calls for service.

“I don’t think that it’s something that warrants having a watchtower literally sitting at the grocery store,” said shopper Miles Stanberry.

“I think its invasion of people’s privacy,” said David McRae.

“That doesn’t make me feel good,” said Martha Owens.

Most of the shoppers who spoke to Q13 News about the watchtower expressed concern over the device.

It’s not exactly what shoppers expected to see at Rainier Valley Square while picking up groceries.

“I actually shop here a lot for lunch and I just felt like it brings a negative stigma to the community that’s growing,” said Owens.

“It’s scary and it’s not something that brings a lot of people comfort especially for people who have been living here for a long time,” said Stanberry.

Seattle Police installed the temporary watchtower only a few days ago to help raise visibility and hopefully deter crime. The shopping center has the highest number of calls to police in the south precinct and the 9th highest across the city.

SPD says the tower, sometimes unmanned, is meant to compliment uniformed and plain clothes officers trying to stem property damage, shoplifting and even robberies here.

“I was disappointed when I came out of the store and saw them lowering it down,” said shopper Diane Earl. “I told them bring it back and put it in our parking lot.”

Earl supports the increased visibility the 30-foot tall tower provides.

“I just feel totally unsafe and I feel safer with that in our parking lot,” she said.

Before noontime Friday, SPD officers and support personnel could be seen dismantling and removing the watchtower. Some voiced their pleasure seeing it leave.

“We don’t want you here!” shouted McRea. “We want friends, we want to see you at our basketball games and our kids’ softball games.”

While others wished SPD would keep it in place.

“I’ve been walking over here and harassed by people hiding behind cars or they pop out and ask for money,” said Earl.

An SPD spokesperson told Q13 News the watchtower is on wheels for a reason as it’s used at the city’s sports stadiums for big events and other shopping centers around the city, but the department wouldn’t divulge where it’s headed next.

Tacoma Police told Q13 News it does not have watchtower, neither does King or Snohomish County sheriff’s offices.

Now that the watchtower is gone SPD has brought in a large command unit van in its place.