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Is Pioneer Square safe? Locals mixed on need for more policing

SPD data shows crime increasing in the neighborhood throughout 2021, however, Pioneer Square regulars are mixed on whether the area actually needs more policing.

SEATTLE — Seattle’s Interim Police Chief suggested the department could be up to 700 officers short of needs, at a time when public safety in the city continues to be a primary debate.

“We need to hire more,” said Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz, at a bill signing for the city's 2022 Budget. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed the bill but suggested she was not happy with the council amendments on public safety, and the message it sends to potential police recruits. 

A controversial amendment to the bill, which ultimately failed, would have gotten rid of 101 open officer positions at the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

Diaz said he opposed the amendment because it would have made staffing even tougher in 2023 and that his department only has 1,000 "deployable officers" while internal staffing reports suggest 1,600 to 1,700 officers are needed following the explosive growth of the city.  

RELATED: Washington police agencies resort to bonuses, social media to find officers amid staffing shortages

There is also the issue of departmental crime data, which shows in neighborhoods like Pioneer Square, a steady monthly increase in 2021. In fact, Weyerhaeuser, a Fortune 500 company, said it has not returned to its corporate headquarters on Occidental Square, in part because of concerns over public safety. King County has a pilot program to escort employees to and from work because of similar concerns.

“I feel safe here,” said Terri Lynn Johnson, unequivocally, as she stood near Pioneer Park on Thursday. She has worked for nearly 25 years in the neighborhood, and is currently helping to run the underground tours at ‘Beneath the Streets’.  The office overlooks the Park, which up until a month ago, was filled with tents.  “It wasn’t about clearing the park, but getting these people sheltered,” she said as she pointed at the spot with the famed pergola.

“I’m on-site every day, and I enjoy coming to Pioneer Square,” said Henry Watson, who is managing the renovation and construction at the old FX McRorys building for Urban Villages. The three-building, multi-million dollar project is one of at least a dozen underway in the neighborhood.  “We’re ready to lease, springtime next year, we’ll be ready to be open,” he told KING5.

Lisa Howard, of the Alliance for Pioneer Square, said there are challenges, but the area is better positioned than in 2020.  “We do have more people open on the retail level,” she said, during an afternoon stroll, and called the situation “pretty good” compared to the start of the pandemic. The encampment at Pioneer Park, and another at City Hall Park have both been removed, with people rehoused through the JustCARE program. She said she couldn’t comment on the crime data, but said it’s a misnomer for people to try and connect the homelessness crisis to public safety.

She also highlighted the confidence from the construction sector in the neighborhood, and what it will mean in the immediate future.  “Our problems here are really hard,” said Howard, “But they're temporary, but we can solve them if we do it together.”

RELATED: Seattle police need about 400 more officers for public safety, chief says

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