Community cautiously optimistic about new SPD chief



Posted on May 19, 2014 at 5:37 PM

Updated Monday, May 19 at 8:25 PM

SEATTLE — Moments after he watched the announcement Seattle’s new police chief, Pastor Lawrence Willis raced across town from City Hall to a meeting regarding the latest round of street violence in Seattle.

The meeting was at the barber shop hit with gunfire last week when someone shot up an entire block of Rainier Avenue South with a high powered rifle.

”There are problems all around, but we have a crisis here now,” said Willis.

Mayor Ed Murray named former Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole as his new police chief. If confirmed by the City Council,  O’Toole will become Seattle first female to lead the agency.

Willis believes hiring a minority would’ve gone a long way in smoothing relations in the black community after a series of high profile incidents in recent years, including the killing of a homeless woodcarver. The incidents resulted in federal oversight of the department. Willis thinks the new chief can make an immediate statement by addressing the concerns of black neighborhoods now.

“What better place to start than the black community? If you want to make a difference, come here and let’s see if you can make a difference,” said Willis.

Across the city there is a definite sense of unease, a feeling that a “safe Seattle” is slipping away.

“You hear a lot about it – muggings, a couple of attempted rapes,” said Kitara Perrault , who lives in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. “I’ve had a few close calls, myself. It’s scary.”

Others have experienced the violence first hand. A few years ago a high, homeless man walked into Bijan Khorrami’s “Floral Masters” flower shop in the Belltown neighborhood and held a knife to his wife’s throat, demanding money. Khorrami chased the man away.

“Thank God I was here,” he said. Khorrami hopes the new chief will be more personally involved with the people.

“We are the heart of the city. We are involved every day. They should know us, we should know them. A close relationship,” he said.

Meantime, it was down to business for Pastor Willis, discussing ways to stop the violence on the front lines, while the city waits for its new chief to take charge.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “We’ll give her time, but not too much.”