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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 22, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 21
Amid rise in reports of bias crimes against Seattle's LGBTQ community SPD launches Safe Place program
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Amid rise in reports of bias crimes against Seattle's LGBTQ community SPD launches Safe Place program

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Seattle is beautiful when the sun comes out; suddenly all the gray days of winter and fall seem worth it. It's picturesque. It's peaceful. It's Seattle in the summer. In droves, Seattleites and Seattle-transplants alike, enjoy Seattle City Parks. On Capitol Hill these include Cal Anderson and Volunteer Parks. By now though, everyone knows that Cal Anderson Park - particularly after the sun goes down - also attracts violent criminals, drug trafficking, and in some cases anti-LGBTQ bias crimes.

As an example, in January a knife attack on three men involving a suspect who allegedly yelled derogatory remarks about their sexual orientation during the assault resulted in the arrest of a 37-year-old who is now facing a hate crime charge in the case.

But it isn't just bias crimes; violence has been known to occur all hours of the day - or night - inside this park located in the center of the city's LGBTQ community and is named after the state's first openly Gay legislator.

CAL ANDERSON PARK
On Wednesday, a group of five individuals were taken into custody after an early morning armed robbery reported on the eastern edge of Cal Anderson Park at 12:40 a.m. According to East Precinct radio dispatches, at least two victims suffered facial injuries and were robbed near 11th Ave. and E. Olive St. Witnesses said as many as eight or nine people could be seen fleeing the area southbound on 11th Ave. after the holdup in which at least two guns were brandished. A witness who heard the melee called 911 bringing police quickly to the scene.

Minutes later the five males were spotted a few blocks away walking on E. Pike St. at Boylston. Police contacted the group and brought witnesses to the scene to identify the assailants and took the suspects into custody. According to reports, the suspects were four juvenile males and an additional male adult suspect. Police recovered two guns, one, an air gun, the other was found to be a 'real gun.' The five taken into custody were transported to East Precinct. Additional police units were called to the scene following a disturbance involving at least one of the males as the suspects were taken into custody.

Cal Anderson Park has become dangerous even for Seattle Parks Department employees. On April 20, a Seattle Parks worker called police to a disturbance at Cal Anderson at 8 a.m. but gave up waiting for officers to arrive and walked to the East Precinct to report an assault. According to the police report, the worker was walking in the park when a hostile man approached him and demanded he give back a blue bag he'd supposedly stolen. When the worker denied stealing anything the man became so hostile he smashed some glass onto the ground and threatened him with what he believed to be a screwdriver. The victim went into what he called a 'defense mode' and the angry man left the park kicking over trash cans and yelling.

Now, if this all reads doom and gloom to you, I apologize, but these are the facts. And you can bet that it is worse because there are no doubt other crimes which have been committed but never reported. The fact remains that Capitol Hill is unsafe after dark, sometimes during the day, and never while you are alone. Pike/Pine businesses and community groups are concerned about another warmer-weather spike in crime that impacts the areas around Cal Anderson and the neighborhood's nightlife district. However, under the direction of Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole and with leadership from East Precinct Capt. McDonough, the East Precinct has successfully rolled out 'emphasis patrols' and they plan to apply tactics used to quell street crime downtown on the Hill.

SCARCE SPD RESOURCES
The fact of the matter is there is an issue with resources. They are scarce. The department is simply not able to keep up with the demand. And on the weekends it's worse. The 911 Call Center is often busy when someone calls for an emergency. Why? You guessed it! Staffing issues. Last week, an independent review of the Seattle Police Department 911 Communications Center found critical problems in service, including busy signals for callers and software freezing up. The report also highlights delays in calls being dispatched because of shift changes. Apparently, shifts have a one-hour overlap. Perhaps the most ridiculous statistic of it all? The report cites the fact that the staffing level at the 911 Center is the same as it was 20 years ago. Something patrol officers complain about, too, as they are operating at numbers that do not seem like they can police the amount of people that have moved into the neighborhood - especially the thousands (nearly 20,000) bar/nightclub capacity crowd on the weekends.

Now, if anyone reading this mistakes my tone it will be of their own accord. I am in no way beating up on the police department, mocking their efforts or saying that they are not making some headway. I believe that O'Toole and Assistant Chief Carmen Best alongside SPD Outreach Liaison Office, openly Gay officer Jim Ritter, a 30-year veteran of the force, East Precinct Captain McDonough and others are making the changes that are needed to get the department functional again as well as restore citizen's trust in their police. Issues of budget, staffing, and policy however, come from City Hall, the Mayor's office and even the feds. I often think the department takes a bad rap for things they have little control over. It is important to note that Mayor Murray has promised more officers (the first wave of cadets are currently being trained) but that will take at least one year before they can be considered a police officer capable of doing the job required without direct supervision and training. While that is something, to victims it can feel like too little, too late.

SPD SAFE PLACE
So what can you do as an LGBTQ person when, according to SPD, there's been a 'spike' in bias crimes reports so far this year vs. 2014. Overall city totals showed 'anti-Gay and Lesbian' victims were the most frequently targeted group with 24% of the reported incidents tallied in the second half of 2014. Out of that group, white, cisgender Gay males were the overly represented target of bias crimes. The department says the increase in bias reports is due to increased awareness; in other words more LGBTQ people might actually be stepping forward and filling out reports when, in the past, they traditionally would not. One thing is for sure - SPD has made addressing hate crimes a priority and continues to deal with serious cases.

Thursday, Mayor Murray and Chief of Police Kathleen O'Toole announced SPD Safe Place, a public education and visibility campaign aimed at preventing and responding to anti-LGBT bias crimes.

'Seattle welcomes all people,' said Mayor Ed Murray. 'There is no place for bigotry or harassment in our city. We developed Safe Place so that businesses and community organizations can visibly stand up against intolerance and provide shelter to victims.'

SPD Safe Place is a voluntary program that provides businesses and organizations with decals and information on how to report malicious harassment, otherwise known as 'hate crimes.' Training for these organizations includes when to call 911, sheltering victims of crime until police arrive and proactive outreach about working with the SPD's LGBT liaison officer.

'Seattle Police officers work every day with the diverse communities of Seattle to ensure safety. SPD Safe Place is another way of connecting and educating those who live, work and visit Seattle about how the SPD can assist in times of crisis,' said Chief Kathleen O'Toole.

Businesses, organizations and educational institutions can request SPD Safe Place placards or posters and learn about how to work with police to prevent and address anti-LGBT crime concerns at spdsafeplace.com.

Safe Space was developed by SPD LGBTQ Liaison Officer Jim Ritter, who worked closely with my social justice organization Social Outreach Seattle and others to come up with a program that would quell fears that the police are against the LGBTQ community and to ensure any email complaint will be answered within a reasonable amount of time and any questions they might have about the process or what their rights as a victim are can be answered. So far people are taking to the idea of the program. It will be up to everyone in the community to support this.

Things have been better on Capitol Hill, but the power is ours to transform the neighborhood from a lawless outpost in some stretch of neighborhood that has become a no-man's land to the all-inclusive, welcoming, loving and weird Queer Gayborhood that it is. Whenever one member of our community is attacked we are all being attacked. Our neighborhood belongs to us, not crime!

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