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Security Increased After More Than 500 Assaults Outside King County Courthouse in Seattle

A group of councilmembers heard from police and judges Tuesday on how to address the rise in crime outside the King County courthouse in downtown Seattle. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - A rise in crime outside the King County courthouse has resulted in questions by the King County Council.

A group of councilmembers heard from police and judges Tuesday on how to address what’s happening on Third Avenue.

Councilmember Pete Von Reichbauer said jurors are afraid to come to court.

“Lady Justice is under siege because jurors who are on these juries are saying ‘I don’t want to come’,” Von Reichbauer told KOMO.

King County Superior Court Judge Sean O’Donnell, who is the county’s chief criminal judge, said crime, loitering, panhandling and harassment outside the courthouse is the worst he’s seen it in his 15 years of working inside the building.

O’Donnell said earlier this year a juror had to be coaxed into returning for deliberations after she was harassed.

“The juror was on recess for lunch and was chased down the street by someone on Third Avenue,” O’Donnell said. “She had to get assistance from a security officer in another building.”

According to the Seattle Police Department’s Open Data Portal, officers responded to nearly 550 assault or threat reports in the 500 block of Third Avenue over the past year. They responded to 66 robberies and 78 drug-related calls as well.

West Precinct Commander Capt. Tom Mahaffey told the county council Tuesday that he and his officers hear people’s frustrations, but their hands are tied by city policies regarding people who are homeless, drug addicted and/or mentally ill.

“It’s not just a police issue, we’re working with a lot of different city agencies,” Mahaffey told the council.

Seattle police are quick to point out that of the 911 calls they respond to around the courthouse many are in response to people who are homeless or in mental crisis - especially at the Morrison Hotel, a shelter helping people who are severely mentally ill.

The neighborhood encompassing the courthouse, the King County Administration Building, Seattle City Hall, Seattle Police Headquarters and Seattle Municipal Court has long been home to people who are in need of help from the social service agencies located nearby. But with things seemingly getting worse, Von Reichbauer wonders if it’s time for the downtown courthouse to pick up and move.

Von Reichbauer said he’s been talking to developers about selling the courthouse building so it can be transformed into condos and mixed use retail. He would like to see a 50-story tower on the site of the current county administration building - it would be for King County government, as well as serve as a courthouse. He said it could be designed to make it safer for people coming and going.

“An innovative, renovated, new administration building and courthouse that would have an entrance that would, hopefully, protect people,” he said.

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