Well-caffeinated and concerned Capitol Hill residents had the attention of many East Precinct officers and Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole during the first Coffee with a Cop event Thursday, March 9.
The Seattle Police Department is offering up these opportunities to connect with law enforcement at Starbucks shops around the city.
Coffee with a Cop is a nationwide initiative that encourages connections between police and the communities they serve, which expanded into Seattle this week through partnerships with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA).
“When we come together on a human level, we find we have more in common than we don’t,” O’Toole told Capitol Hill residents inside the East Olive Way Starbucks on Thursday afternoon, adding officers today provide more service to the community than enforcement of laws. “I want people in the community to get to the know the officers better.”
“All I can say is this is exactly what we try to do every day,” added East Precinct Capt. Paul McDonagh. “If you can share what’s happening in your neighborhood, it makes it better for them to do their job.”
And share they did.
Many East Precinct officers arrived to the coffee shop before the top brass, and didn’t mind taking questions before the main event.
Mike McComber, who works at the Iliad Apartments down the street on Bellevue Avenue East, told officers about the ongoing homeless and drug problems there.
“I’ve talked to a number of people who don’t want to move in because of what’s happening around our apartment,” he said.
McComber came with a list of incidents that have occurred around the Iliad, many involving people shooting up in the alley and vehicle prowls. He said he’s emailed the list to SPD a numerous times.
Recently, two men pulled up in a car, and one of them attempted to smash out the window to a vehicle, he said.
“Usually they don’t have a gun,” McComber told the Capitol Hill Times. “Usually they’re more tame.” He added the police response was quick.
A gardener at the Paradise P-Patch in Summit Slope Park said he’s been keeping a log of drug needles, caps and excrement found there.
“They should rename it Needle Park,” said Dena Schoen, who lives at The Meritage on Bellevue.
She told CHT she documents the homeless people she sees sleeping in doorways and other areas of the neighborhood daily.
“It’s like a knife going through my heart every morning,” she said.
Schoen had a cup of criticism for Starbucks, saying the East Olive Way coffee shop is a “magnet” for the homeless and people struggling with drug addiction.
“Starbucks garbage is everywhere,” she said, “so I’m starting to think we need to tax Starbucks to pay for our police force in the neighborhood.”
Starbucks senior manager of government and community affairs Shannon Boldizsar told residents the company works with all five SPD precincts to address public safety. Starbucks has also sponsored the Capitol Hill Clean Sweep for the last five years, she said, which coincides with Pride Month. This year’s Clean Sweep takes place June 4.
Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce executive director Sierra Hansen said Clean and Safe meetings are held at 4 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month in the 12th Avenue Arts building to address those issues, adding Starbucks and SPD this year will focus on neighborhood litter.
Schoen also said she believes drug dealers idle in their cars in the parking lot, which is used by Starbucks customers but also a private pay lot.
McDonagh said the East Precinct does receive calls from Starbucks, but drug deals happen quickly. If people can provide vehicle information, officers can use it later.
Another resident said she sometimes sees homeless individuals being aggressive with Starbucks staff.
“I feel so bad for these employees,” she said, “and I think Starbucks needs to pick it up and look out for those employees.”
Boldizsar said Starbucks does provide training on how to handle these incidences.
McDonagh said the police department has the ability to form trespassing agreements with businesses, granting officers the ability to trespass people on behalf of property owners. The Harvard Market QFC entered such an agreement late last year, following a rash of shootings.
O’Toole addressed one resident’s question about the potential for a safe drug consumption site in Capitol Hill, saying there are plans for two such facilities, however, no locations have been determined yet. A King County task force recommended piloting one facility in Seattle and outside the city. O’Toole said her department will working with its partners to make sure these spaces are safe.
The police chief said she’s thankful Seattle is not dealing with the same level of violent crime as her colleagues in Chicago. SPD has been focused on the intersection of public safety and public health, she said, that includes drug addiction, homelessness and mental health.
“We’re doing a lot more service work than we’re doing law enforcement work,” O’Toole said, telling attendees the SPD provided 10,000 significant crisis interventions in 2016.
A resident, who said she was the victim of a sexual assault three years ago, asked what the department is doing to better respond to these crimes.
O’Toole said there was a time when the SPD would take sexual assault reports, drop victims off at Harborview Medical Center and be done. Now officers are receiving five times the training as they used to, she said, and the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit is working more closely with Harborview and social workers.
The police chief was concerned to see a recent report that showed an increase in sexual assaults, she said, but advocate groups tell her it is likely more assaults are being reported because victims now feel more comfortable going to the police.
“The numbers could be telling us a good story too,” O’Toole said.
McComber said after Wednesday’s Coffee with a Cop that he was happy to have the opportunity to speak with officers, but it’ll take time to tell whether the event has any effect on law enforcement around the neighborhood.
“I hate to say it, but it just seems like PR,” he said.
The next Coffee with a Cop event will be held 1-2:30 p.m. Thursday, March 16, at the Starbucks at 824 E. Pike in Capitol Hill.