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Amid Seattle police staffing shortages, downtown businesses turn to security firms

Downtown Seattle Association says $564,000 was spent in the 2020/21 fiscal year, with most of that money from businesses going to private security firms.

SEATTLE — Frustrated shop owners in Seattle say the cost of doing business downtown keeps climbing, and they point to concerns about safety as a major reason why.

The Downtown Seattle Association says $564,000 was spent in the 2020/21 fiscal year, with most of that money from businesses going to private security firms.

Downtown Seattle Association provided this statement to KING 5:

"We've been contracting with SPD to provide officers on overtime shifts for years, but decreased staffing levels meant SPD couldn't fill the number of shifts we had requested. And we know sections of downtown need more attention. 

We're contracting with a private security firm so we can supplement the shifts that SPD can still provide. The additional security provides support so our ambassador teams can work safely, and offers an extra set of eyes that can respond quickly and coordinate with SPD, if public safety needs arise."

On the corner of 3rd Avenue and Union in downtown Seattle, Maria Coassin owns Gelatiamo, a business she's operated in that location for 25 years. Coassin says the last couple of years have been the worst she has seen when it comes to crime and vandalism. 

On Wednesday, she showed surveillance video of three incidents that she says have happened since mid-December. Two windows were shattered and a fire was set outside of the shop.

"Somebody came in and smashed the front door," she said. 

On 3rd Avenue, there are boarded-up buildings on both sides of the street, and Coassin says there's also been criminal activity.

"Drug dealing, thefts, we had two shootings in two days, two weeks ago, right outside the store," she said.

A Seattle police spokesperson told KING 5 that they do provide extra patrols when possible, but the department is dealing with staffing shortages. Currently, SPD has 948 deployable officers departmentwide. At one point, the department was budgeted to have about 1,350 officers.

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Downtown building managers and businesses are also hiring private security.

At the Melbourne Tower, located near 3rd Avenue and Pike, they have private security seven days a week, and it is costing just under $1,000 a day, according to General Manager Lou Bond.  

"It's crazy that we have to do that," said Bond. "What we're facing specifically here has been really challenging."

"To spend additional money just to be able to safely operate? You got to be kidding. It's just doesn't make sense," said Coassin.

The Mayor's office provided this statement to KING 5, saying Mayor Bruce Harrell is working on building up staffing at the Seattle Police Department:

"Mayor Harrell believes it is unacceptable that small and local businesses are feeling the burden of providing core public safety responsibilities. He also believes it is unacceptable that the police force has reached this severely reduced level of staffing. He is committed to restoring staffing to national best practice levels and is working with the Seattle Police Department on strategies to address the impacts of and make progress on this staffing shortage -- now and in the long term.

"Additionally, Mayor Harrell knows the challenges facing downtown are real and significant -- for neighborhood residents and local businesses. He is regularly meeting with neighbors, businesses, stakeholders, and public safety advocates to advance change, reset norms, and make measurable progress toward a thriving downtown. With regard to immediate crime and safety issues, he is also meeting with the Chief of Police and Police Department on a plan for action within the first quarter of the year."

"Behind every small business there is a heart and there is a story, and sometimes we just don't look at that. We just look at oh, its another business down," said Coassin.

Coassin's family has been in the bakery business for 200 years, and she says she is determined to keep her small downtown shop going.


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