The homeless regulars pose a “huge problem in front of my business,” says Tim Beckwith, a Manager of Dick’s, at a campus roundtable discussing the city’s new trespass ordinance. East Precinct brass loaded into the January 15 event at Seattle Central to speak with local business owners on the ordinance, and how to deal with homeless and trespassers.
Beckwith’s concerns were difficult to address, while local police can remove individuals disruptive to the flow of business, they cannot remove panhandlers on adjacent sidewalks. Officer Chris Brownlee who sat on a panel of three officers explains, unless someone is obstructing the sidewalk or following you that panhandling is not illegal. Another officer on the panel explored the new trespass ordinance after one local owner asked, “What is trespassing?”
Officer Casey Sundin says the new trespass ordinance allows those issued a trespass warning to return to the business, “as long as they behave.” If they decide to get rowdy at the business after the warning they will be hauled off in cuffs. The new program also means that those issued trespass warnings will have it linked to them indefinitely.
Business owners who have a trespassing agreement prior to May 25, 2011 will have “to complete the revised Trespass Agreement and Authorization form and post the new SPD Conditions of Entry Sign before Trespass Warnings can be issued,” says the SPD website.
Trespassing wasn’t the only thing on people’s minds at the meeting, which delved into issues surrounding homelessness and mental health, eliciting a strong reaction from some in the audience.
“These are people with hopes, dreams, and you could get them locked up like animals,” says Stephen Hrivnak, an owner-employee at Black Coffee Co-Op. This view was mirrored by Cody Ingram, affiliated with Peace for the Streets by Kids. Ingram suggested that any instance in which SPD is called to deal with alleged homeless trespass, police will presume guilt. “There is a certain amount of segregation with homeless people,” he says, a sentiment which Officer Brownlee agreed with.
“I’m not going to lie, some of my interactions were not alright,” says Brownlee of incidents dealing with the public. “I think dialogues like this are extremely important” to better address community concerns he adds. Officer Dan Nelson, who also fielded questions, offered his stance on dealing with the mentally impaired. “First and foremost we have to treat them (mentally ill) with respect and dignity,” adding that finding them the proper care is the best way to solve potential problems. “The worst place you can send them is to jail.”
After the questions had been addressed and some concerns were put to rest, the meeting concluded with what local owners can do if someone causes a ruckus in their shop.
“We at the chamber encourage people to call 911,” in order to gain more detailed crime statistics, says Michael Wells of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, which organized and emceed the event. Newly appointed East Precinct Captain Ron Wilson, stuck to the sidelines for most of the event agreed saying it will help with resource allocation and that “it really does a collective force in neighborhoods to solve this,” in reference to community crime.
Alexander M. Koch and Sebastian Garrett-Singh contributed to this article with photography provided by Jordan Martinez. More photos of the event are available below.