A phalanx of elected officials, prosecutors and law enforcement officials gathered March 4 to announce a concentrated effort to address criminal activity at Third and Pine, while also acknowledging that such action might move the situation elsewhere in the city.
The effort is an expansion of “Operation New Day,” which began with the enhanced police presence at 12th and Jackson in Little Saigon in late January, in part at the behest of community members and business owners.
Mayor Bruce Harrell promised a mobile precinct and at least six officers present at any time at Third and Pine. He also said the city would engage in partnerships with other law enforcement agencies. Other ideas floated included bus stop closures and increased lighting.
Mentioned, but barely addressed in this press conference, was the carrot part of the “carrot-and-stick” equation: resources to address the underlying causes of homelessness, substance use and behavioral health conditions.
“This is the first step toward stabilizing an area,” said Mayor Bruce Harrell. “And when you stabilize an area, that is the only way you can bring the community-based, comprehensive approach.”
Although Harrell flagged city efforts including JustCARE — a program run by the Public Defender Association that connects people experiencing homelessness with hotel rooms and case management — and the HOPE team — the replacement for the erstwhile Navigation Team that emphasizes outreach over police presence at encampment cleanups — as the “compassion” part of the approach at Third and Pine, he would not name other outreach organizations that would be working in the area or in future “hot spots.”
Instead, Harrell said, his administration would conduct a review of organizations currently doing outreach to “make sure they are aligned with at least our vision, and that we’re aligned with the strategies that they believe are best appropriate in some of these areas.”
The emphasis of the Friday press conference fell on law enforcement actions in Little Saigon, the template for the Third and Pine approach. Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz listed roughly 130 felony and misdemeanor arrests that had taken place between Jan. 20 and March 3. The number of arrests does not equate to the number of people arrested, as the same person could be arrested on suspicion of more than one crime.
Speakers drew a direct connection between criminal activity at the two hot spots in some specific cases.
At the same time, officials acknowledged that increasing a police presence in one location could do little more than push people into another.
“If we infuse ourselves into the Third and Pine area with a lot of patrol cars, where does that potentially end up going?” Diaz said. “Do they end up moving to Fourth and Pike? Do they move into Pioneer Square? Where is that activity going to end up going, because being that we are focused on the criminal activity and we have a bunch of officers to address that, it’s going to end up going somewhere.”
While speakers including Diaz and U.S. Attorney Nick Brown said that they “cannot prosecute our way out” and “cannot arrest our way out” of the current situation, those pronouncements were paired with City Attorney Ann Davison’s commitment to “prioritizing” prosecutions in the downtown area and Diaz’ emphasis on the number of arrests at 12th and Jackson.
And while the mayor made reference to restorative justice, saying that he does not believe in a racialized or militarized approach to the problem, there was no one present to speak to what that looked like or how it would work after the area was “stabilized.”
Stabilization isn’t always durable, and cutting down on fentanyl and other drug trafficking in the area will require a “long game approach,” said Frank A. Tarentino III, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Authority’s Seattle field division.
“It’s a relentless pursuit,” Tarentino said. “If we think for a second that we’re going to spend a couple of weeks or a month or two months trying to [address] the drug-related violence or trying to drive down overdose deaths and then walk away from it, we would be sadly mistaken.”
Even then, arresting people involved does not increase the available resources for or quality of drug or alcohol use treatment, which Harrell suggested could be best accessed after a person is arrested in some cases. Minutes later, he said that the team isn’t going out to “arrest, arrest, arrest, arrest” because the situation at Third and Pine is a public health crisis.
Read more of the Mar. 9-15, 2022 issue.