Is Seattle safe? Mayor Bruce Harrell says 'that's a tough question,' talks solutions

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell held an impromptu press briefing on Thursday, where he was eventually asked a simple question: "Is Seattle safe?" 

After a long pause, Harrell responded with "that's a tough question." 

He finished his response with, "Seattle is on a trajectory to be one of the safest cities in this country, and I’ll make sure of that. That's why I got elected."

This week, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce released a poll of 700 Seattle voters, being asked on a variety of topics from quality of life, to downtown recovery, public safety and top concerns. 

In that poll, 73% of those surveyed said they feel less safe now in the city of Seattle than they did two years ago. 

That same poll listed homelessness as the city’s number one issue, followed by public safety. The public safety figure increased 17 percentage points to 46% from 29% in August 2021.

 The homelessness figure dropped about 5 percentage points from 66% to 61% from the last time the question was asked in August 2021.

"I don’t think it’s that people are less concerned about homelessness. Some of that has been displaced by really intense concern about public safety," Andrew Thibault explained. Thibault is the Senior Principal of EMC Research, the organization that conducted the poll for the Seattle Chamber of Commerce.

"I didn’t need a poll to tell me that," the mayor quipped back. 

The mayor was asked if he’s shifted his stance about homelessness and its intersection with issues of crime in the city.  

Seattle mayor, law enforcement announce efforts to address crime downtown

In response to recent centralized crime in Seattle, particularly at notorious problem spot Third Avenue and Pine/Pike Street, Seattle mayor Bruce Harrell met with local, regional and federal law enforcement leaders to discuss efforts underway to address crime and public safety. 

Harrell and Tiffany Washington, the Deputy Mayor of Housing and Homelessness, have been warning people not to conflate the two issues.

However, Harrell appeared to admit the two issues do intersect.

"There’s a difference between a public safety strategy and a homelessness strategy and there are overlapping circles in that approach," he said.

Since he took office more than 100 days ago, Harrell has talked about rolling out his strategy to deal with unsheltered people living on the street.

When FOX 13 asked Harrell when he was going to talk about the plan publicly, he said, "in a matter of weeks."

He went on to say, "I’m not into flashy quick headlines. We’ve seen mayors do that in the past, by the way."

In regards to public safety and staffing at the Seattle Police Department, Harrell said he is not necessarily sold on the idea of a hiring bonus for SPD.  

Since January 2020, 401 officers have exited the police force, according to SPD.  The department has been hiring officers during the same time period with a net loss of 254.

Harrell choose not to extend an executive order that previous mayor Jenny Durkan established in 2021, which authorized hiring bonuses for SPD to combat the officer exodus.

The city council had funded Durkan’s executive order, but did not authorize hiring bonuses in the 2022 budget.

"So before I issue an executive order, I want to make sure that is exactly what people are saying is effective to entice laterals or new recruits and I have not reached that conclusion yet," Harrell said. 

The City Council is evaluating if other cities departments need hiring bonuses for jobs where qualified applicants are in short supply.

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