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Judges & police testify on courthouse safety
Jurors are being attacked getting off the bus; people are stepping over human waste. Those are conditions outside the King County courthouse, according to the judges who testified before the county council today.
Elisa Hahn, KING 6:14 PM. PDT July 11, 2017
Two judges described the "crisis" conditions outside the downtown courthouse to King County Council members Tuesday.
Presiding Judge Laura Inveen shared the photos she took that morning.
"This morning, I walked around the courthouse," Inveen said. "The same urine stains and in every single vestibule of the courthouse."
The surrounding area has people battling drug use and homelessness. Seattle Police just arrested eight people for drug crimes.
"The average was held in jail for about two days," said Captain Mike Teeter, who leads the West Precinct. "That's part of why I say arresting offenders is not the solution."
"The conditions we are experiencing current are far worse than anything we've seen before," said Judge Jim Rogers. "No one knows what the tipping point was."
Rogers referred to the broken window theory, that by allowing unsightly conditions to continue you invite more serious crimes, like assaults, to happen.
An internal report from the King County Prosecutor's office listed random assaults against staff members. Employees have been punched, spit at, and people have exposed themselves to them.
Rogers said a courthouse committee is making a list of simple, immediate recommendations, which include power washing the sidewalks every day, like some nearby businesses, emptying trash bins more often, and removing the benches from the 3rd Avenue bus stops to prevent people from congregating near the main entrance.
"To wholesale remove all the people congregating around the courthouse is very challenging," said Councilmember Claudia Balducci, "because not all of them are here for the same reason."
Seattle Police agreed.
"It's uncomfortable for most of us to be next to that and to experience that," said Teeter. "It might make us feel unsafe as the sheriff was saying. But there is nothing illegal about it."
But policing can solve some of the problems, said Sheriff John Urquhart, who offered up two deputies to walk a foot beat around the building.
"There is public urination, defecation. That's a crime," said Urquhart. "There is smoking marijuana in public. That's a crime."
Urquhart said those deputies would have to be working on overtime with council approval.
Courthouse facilities said staff would need to pressure wash 2-3 times a day to remove the human waste. The other recommendations are still under consideration.
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