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December 13, 2013 at 6:31 AM

Seattle’s Westlake Park feels safer. Was that so hard?

As concierge at the Seaboard Building in Westlake Park, Joseph Crudo has a front-row seat to daily scrum in Seattle’s retail core.

Westlake Park, looking splendid / ALAN BERNER, SEATTLE TIMES

Westlake Park, looking splendid / ALAN BERNER, SEATTLE TIMES

In July, that front row seat got him a broken arm and nose and a concussion. Crudo got beat up after trying to warn a man that he was being pickpocketed. The case made headlines in The Seattle Times and elsewhere because a 13-year-old was arrested after being seen kicking Crudo in the head.

The incident also made headlines because it confirmed a perception that downtown was going seedy. Fast forward five months, and Crudo sees a changed landscape.

“In all honesty, things have really cleared up,” said Crudo, a 26-year-old Seattle University student.

The difference-maker was Operation Happy Holidays, a big undercover drug bust in November by Seattle police and the King County Sheriff’s Office. So far, 19 people have been charged, with more charges likely, said Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County Prosecuting Attorney.

Reading the charging documents, there was nothing innovative in the bust. Lots of hand-to-hand buys of crack and ecstasy, many of them from people with long criminal records. What it took was the will and resources to police Seattle’s gateway for shoppers and tourists. There is similar boilerplate language from detectives shown below in a scanned excerpt from the charging documents:

Happy Holidays

Was that so hard?

It was. Last August, the Seattle mayor’s race high-centered on the issue of downtown street crime. Mayor Mike McGinn and his allies championed a social-services-first approach, under the banner of the Center City Initiative. The Seattle Times editorial board liked the approach, but also suggested balancing it with traditional policing. Ed Murray endorsed that balanced approach, which is one of the reasons the board endorsed him.

The Downtown Seattle Association also pushed hard for more police presence in the area. DSA spokesman James Sido confirms Crudo’s perception. “Anecdotally, I hear people say it feels safer” after Operation Happy Holidays, he said.

Crudo, who has filed a $450,000 claim with the city over his assault, fears the police emphasis will recede, and Westlake will go back to seedy. He also, rightly, says the cold weather and swarm of families to the park’s holiday carousel help with the atmosphere.

“There has to be consistent pressure applied,” he said. “It’s going to have to be a yearly routine.”

One other thing jumps out from the charging papers. The mayor’s race also featured a flare-up between McGinn’s police brass and City Attorney Pete Holmes, a staunch McGinn opponent. Two days after the high-profile shooting of a Metro bus driver put the spotlight on downtown (and the Seattle police), police administration tried to shift attention to Holmes by suggesting he wouldn’t file criminal charges on 28 people who perpetually ignored civil infractions for public urination, etc.

By implication, those 28 people were part of the problem downtown. Holmes rejected the list, saying it was so sloppily compiled that it included one man currently imprisoned at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

If those individuals caused enough trouble to target them during a contentious mayor’s race, you’d expect there would be some overlap. Nope. Thus far, none of the people charged in Operation Happy Holidays was on the list of 28, which confirms to me that the list was bunk.

Comments | Topics: crime, downtown seattle, seattle police


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