Public safety survey a community-wide effort to keep the city accountable

Lyra Fontaine April 10, 2017 0

Hing Hay Park in Seattle’s Chinatown International District. • Photo by Joe Mabel

Every year, community-based organizations in the Chinatown-International District dedicate time and effort to conduct a neighborhood public safety survey, analyze the results and publish a report on the survey’s findings.

After analyzing the results that recently came in, the report will be created in the next months.

The survey is conducted both online and in paper form by the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation (SCIDpda) and InterIm Community Development Association.

The survey helps to guide the CID community’s conversations and strategies in addressing the neighborhood’s crime and safety. “The survey is a community-led effort that is time and labor-intensive, but is a straightforward way to measure whether what we are doing around public safety is actually effective,” said Jamie Lee, SCIDpda IDEA Space Program Manager.

Lee and Valerie Tran, InterIm CDA Healthy Communities Program Manager, are in charge of administering the survey.  “[The survey] reinforces the importance of community-based data and how that can be a powerful thing to bring to decision-makers,” said Tran, adding that city leaders may not understand the nuances of the neighborhood.

The City and Seattle Police Department measure their performance based on 911 data. However, this data doesn’t take into account the reasons why people might not call 911. People in the CID may not call 911 for a variety of reasons, such as response time, the belief that police might not be able to do anything, past experiences with police not responding to calls, fear of authority or negative experiences with police in their country of origin, according to Lee.

The PDA has conducted public safety surveys for years, but recently the surveys have become more intentional. The surveys are translated into Chinese and Vietnamese, and starting last year, the data is now analyzed by Seattle University students.

Lee and Tran said their eventual goal is for the City to conduct some community-based surveys on its own, instead of relying on nonprofits. They hope that the city can take their survey questions into consideration when examining policing practices.

Lee said it was important for the community to gather its own data independent from SPD, which has a citywide survey, while the CID’s public safety survey is catered to the neighborhood. SCIDpda and InterIm CDA conducted extra outreach to make the surveys accessible, Lee said.

Similar to last year, this year’s survey garnered about 330 responses. The survey administrators would like to see more respondents.

Survey results informed Mayor’s action plan

The 2016 survey results have helped inform the city’s task force and plan, leading to city funding to create positions that address public safety gaps. In late March, the CID Public Safety Steering Committee hired a neighborhood-based public safety coordinator, Sonny Nguyen, who was a member of Murray’s task force and is involved in CID community organizing. The position was funded by the city based on recommendations from the public safety task force to improve communication and collaboration between the city, SPD, and the CID neighborhood. The coordinator will be on the ground representing the community and will help move the Mayor’s plan forward, Tran said.

The other two positions created are Community Engagement and Outreach Specialist with SPD Vicky Li and a Community Projects Manager with the city’s Department of Neighborhoods, Ben Han.

Last year, SCIDpda and InterIm CDA presented the 2016 survey results and their recommendations to Murray’s Chinatown-International District Public Safety Task Force, comprised of 19 CID business owners and community leaders. The task force then presented its recommendations to Murray in June.

In July, Mayor Ed Murray released his action plan for the Chinatown-International District.

The plan included four elements identified for early action: a neighborhood-based public safety coordinator position, a community engagement and outreach specialist in the SPD, a public safety steering committee and improved police communication and responsiveness.

“It is important to keep the city accountable,” Tran said, adding that with the Mayor’s plan in place, officials are more invested in the CID’s public safety.

Murray’s task force was formed after CID community members released a public safety packet in September 2015 that included their concerns and offered suggestions to improve public safety.

Donnie Chin, the founder and leader of the International District Emergency Center (IDEC), was murdered in the CID in July 2015. Chin dedicated his life to protecting the community, providing emergency response to the neighborhood for decades.

The 2016 survey highlighted public safety gaps

Last year, survey results demonstrated that public safety issues are a top concern in the community and confirmed that the Seattle Police Department’s data—which showed the biggest rise in crime in the CID as car prowls—was flawed. Crimes such as drug dealing, guns being fired in the neighborhood, and violent crimes often go unreported because most CID residents don’t call 911.

Out of about 334 responses, more than a quarter said their primary language was Chinese, 64 percent primarily spoke English, and 5 percent spoke primarily Vietnamese. Most respondents were residents or employees in the neighborhood. Trespassing, public intoxication and graffiti were the types of behaviors that respondents most-often identified as “always” seeing. About 50 percent of respondents said they had witnessed criminal acts such as gun violence, vehicle theft or robbery.

Of those who stated they had witnessed a non-violent crime, less than 30% reported it. The most common reason for non-reporting was that they did not expect any police follow-through. The next most common reason was thinking that police couldn’t do anything.

Out of the 13.5 percent of respondents who reported witnessing a violent crime, about 60% did not report it. No expected follow through by police and the belief that the police couldn’t do anything were among the top reasons for not calling 911.

The top reasons for not reporting violent crimes were that someone else called or because they did not expect any police follow-through. The survey also pointed to a high proportion of Chinese and English speakers who do not call 911 when they witnessed non-violent or violent crimes.

Last year, most respondents indicated that they rarely see police engage with the public, with 52 respondents selecting “never.” When they did witness police-community relations, most rated the relations as “fair.” According to survey results, respondents feel less safe when within the I-5 underpass, Danny Woo Community Garden and Kobe Terrace Park, while feeling safer in Chinatown and Japantown.

Respondents indicated that they believe a lack of sanitation services in the neighborhood, combined with an increasing homeless population, decrease the perception of safety in the community and thus leads to less people coming to the CID to conduct “legitimate business.”

The impact of safety to CID residents, employees and visitors’ stress and anxiety level was a new consideration in last year’s survey. Out of 320 people who responded to the statement that their stress and anxiety were due to the neighborhood being unsafe, only 30% said they completely disagree.

SCIDpda and InterIm CDA recommended educating community members about reporting crime, developing a culturally responsive protocol for SPD to serve the neighborhood, and seeking long-term engagement and financial support for other CID programs and public spaces.

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