I.D. Vice: Community and police struggle to control a boom in gangs, drugs and prostitution in the International District

Lisa Charlie Ritts January 1, 1999 0

Tuesday. 10 p.m. Six youths are huddled together across from the International District post office on Sixth Ave. S. A security officer employed by the I.D. Business Improvement Association (BIA) shakes them down. The group scatters. But 10 minutes later, they’ve regrouped across the street.

Around the corner two men watch the traffic from Hing Hay Park. A Cadillac pulls up. One of the men walks over to the car, and shakes hands with the driver. The car drives off.

Since October, scenes like this have become increasingly common in the neighborhood. And local residents, employees and business owners are convinced the dealing are far from innocent.

Observers say loitering and illegal activity, especially drug dealing and prostitution, have reached their highest levels in recent memory. The activity peaks at night and in the early morning, but many say it’s been happening more frequently in broad daylight.

From Bad to Worse

Homeless people and public inebriates have always been a part of the neighborhood scene, but people say the current situation is entirely different in scope and impact. Donnie Chin, who has been patrolling the streets of the I.D. for decades with the International District Emergency Center, said drug dealing is the biggest problem. Hot spots are the neighborhood parks, parking lots and the alcoves of public hotels like the Bush and NP Hotel.

Chin has also seen a rise in the number of gang-affiliated youths hanging out up and down Jackson Street. “Most of them don’t live here, have never lived here, and won’t ever live here,” said Chin. Many come from Pierce County, said Chin, while others hop from Belltown to the I.D., taking advantage of the free bus zone. Aileen Balahadia of the Community Action Partnership, a neighborhood policing organization, said the kids are a mix of Asians, Blacks, and Caucasians.
In November, postal workers complained of obvious drug dealing and loitering around the post office. Private security officers report that convicted prostitutes and drug dealers regularly frequent the area.

Security guard John McClurg, who walks the District three nights a week from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., said it’s fairly easy to identify the drug traffickers. “Usually you’ll see one or two guys walking around by themselves, and then alternative groups or individuals will approach them,” he said.

McClurg says he can only do so much. “They know we’re coming because someone will tip them off. They know our schedule just as well as we do,” he said. In December, McClurg was inside Seattle’s Best Karaoke, a popular hangout in the International Center on King St., during a drive-by shooting in which no one was hurt.

Calling in the Cavalry

Community improvement groups are asking the SPD for expanded service, especially during the early morning hours after private security patrols go home. “The District needs intense emphasis patrol for longer periods of time,” said Aileen Balahadia, of the Community Action Partnership.

In the first half of last year, the West Precinct of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) conducted “emphasis” operations that seemed to effectively control flare-ups in the District. Five-person squads targeted street-level narcotics in the I.D., Pioneer Square, Belltown and the Pike-Pine Street corridor. The SPD also augmented patrol cars to these areas and added a second anti-crime team in the West Precinct. But when the SPD needed to trim its budget last July, extra coverage was the first to go.

Current coverage consists of two foot beats during the day. A “third watch patrol is active from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. that covers a combined area from I.D., Pioneer Square and downtown. Honey Court restaurant, which draws a large teenage clientele in the early morning hours, has hired an off-duty Seattle Police officer to work a late-night shift on weekends.

But SPD spokesperson say fiscally, their hands are tied, and they have no plans to bring in emphasis patrol units in the near future.

“It’s not cost-effective,” said Dick Schweitzer of the West Precinct. “While emphasis patrol cars do increase the perception of safety, all they do is make people feel better. It does little to suppress most types of criminal activity—[criminals] will move inside, move elsewhere or are more careful about how they go about their business.”

Still, the police seem to have more clout than private security officers. For starters, they’re armed. Police are also able to make drug busts (if narcotics are seen), and can arrest on the spot.

Recently, McClurg saw a patrol car crawl by the park after hours, announcing that all would-be dwellers upon its return would be arrested for trespassing. When the police came back, everybody was gone for the night.

Police coverage is also indexed to the number of calls and reported incidents in an area. “We receive no where near the number of calls from the I.D. that we receive from Pioneer Square or Belltown,” said Lieutenant Schweitzer. Balahadia speculates cultural and language barriers may prevent some I.D. residents from calling 911. Schweitzer assured, “If the call count does go up, you’ll see more officers.”

Pulling Together

Neighborhood improvement groups like the BIA, CAP, and the Chinatown I.D. Preservation and Development Authority, which manages many of the district’s hotels, have been working to turn a worsening situation into an opportunity for pro-action.

Agencies are urging people to call 911 if they see any suspicious activities. CAP has tried for many months to organize a volunteer neighborhood watch patrol, but has had difficulty recruiting people for the evening hours. Tenants and residents are encouraged to participate in letter-writing campaigns to the SPD, and inform building management of persistent problems.

Tenants and neighbors of the Alps Hotel petitioned the police department by documenting the activity outside their windows: “Many of us are awakened at night by the yelling, cars driving by. … We’ve seen gathering of anywhere between 5-25 people hanging out on the Park’s benches. … We can tell that there are obvious prostitution and drug trafficking rings occurring in our back and front yards.”

Residents of the NP Hotel on Sixth Ave. S. have also been complaining about the large number of people who loiter outside their building. Frank Kiuchi, executive director of InterIm Community Development Association, located next door to the NP, often checks up with the residents. Kiuchi is fairly certain at least one tenant is facilitating or partaking in some kind of illegal activity. Residents have found the back entrance propped open by a block of wood, and they’ve heard excessive noise in the hallways. Kiuchi wants to see the NP tenant council organize and educate its residents so “our streets won’t get taken over.”

“The police will say that crime in I.D. isn’t that bad, said Balahadia, “but it’s still something we don’t want to live with.”

What You Can Do About Street Crime

Citizens can take numerous actions against illegal activity in public areas and open spaces. The Seattle Police Department uses citizen complaints as a factor in distributing patrols. Reporting individual incidents can lead to long-term change. Proactive, grassroots efforts, however, leave noting to chance. Notify landlords or poor conditions, volunteer for block watches or attend Community Action Partnership meetings (621-1815). Public safety officials discourage citizens from directly confronting offenders.

Call 911 regarding any suspicious, observed or on-going criminal situations. This includes possible drug transactions, public drinking of alcohol, and descriptions of suspicious cars.

Officer Tom Doran (pager 969-9257) and Officer Hugh “Pat” Wallace are the I.D.’s two foot-beat officers. They work from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Sergeant Steve Wilske is the nighttime watch, 7 p.m. to 4 a.m., that covers parts of the I.D., Pioneer Square and downtown. He can be paged at 680-4419. His 3rd wach supervisor is Lt. JJ Jankauskas and can be reached at 684-8905.
Call the postal police (or 911) regarding any suspicious activity around the post office at 442-6300.

Letters of concern are encouraged, especially the I.D. business community. Address letters to Captain Tag Gleason and cc: copies to Norm Stamper, Lt. JJ Jankauskas, Sgt. Steve Wilske, Sgt. Mike Brady. You may also want to direct letters to the Narcotics/Vice Unit and the Gang Unit and cc: as stated. Be specific in your letters about actual instances of crime, patterns, times of day, and types of crime. Seattle Police Department, 610 3rd Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104.

A community meeting with the Seattle Police Departmen-3rd Watch is slated for Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Union Gospel Mission, American Hotel, on 6th and King.

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