Michael Harthorne
Councilmember Tim Burgess discusses public safety at the Dec. 9 Ballard District Council meeting.

Burgess addresses policing, safety in Ballard

Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess, chair of the Public Safety, Human Services and Education Committee, showed support for increased police presence in the neighborhood and more services for homeless individuals at the Dec. 9 Ballard District Council meeting.

Burgess attended the meeting to discuss the progress of the city's Safer Streets Initiative, which the council passed in summer 2008. The initiative includes a dozen steps to address street crime and social disorder.

He said the city council has recently implemented an ordinance that allows the city to move against problem properties, such as drug houses and certain hotels on Aurora Avenue, with better efficiency.

The city council is taking an aggressive posture toward child prostitution by making Seattle only the fourth city in the country to provide a safe haven for the estimated 300 to 500 children younger than 17 being abused, Burgess said.

Most importantly, the city council is continuing to work toward staffing up the Seattle Police Department, he said. The city spends 54 percent of its budget on the police and fire department because public safety its its number one priority, he said.

Burgess said the goal is to get to the point where 30 percent of an officer's shift is spent doing proactive police work, such as getting out of their cars and talking to residents, instead of chasing 911 calls.

A number of meeting attendees expressed skepticism, saying Ballard has not seen any change in police presence with the hiring of more officers.

James Imonti, owner of Matador on Market Street, was stabbed at his business in October. He said it took police and fire units 25 minutes to arrive after he placed the 911 call.

Burgess said that was unacceptable.

Cass Mabbott, Ballard Public Library branch manager, said she has been told that library patrons do not feel safe walking through the crowds that loiter outside the library. People can be heard yelling outside during story time, and parents need to be more cautious with their children than they use to, she said.

Burgess said Ballard has some specific issues relating to aggressive panhandling and street disorder.

Some people want to arrest everybody and throw them in jail – to criminalize being homeless, he said.

He said some individuals do require a police response, but most need to be gotten off the streets and given access to services and treatment.

In the city's 2010 budget, the council did not cut any safety services or direct human services, Burgess said.

"The majority of homeless people don't cause problems," he said. "Those that do are the exception. We live in an urban setting, and we have to find balance and try to get it right."

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