After Seattle Defunded Its Police, Local Business Owners Say Crime Is Worse Than Ever

Rojan Joseph/Twitter/Screenshot

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Trevor Schakohl Legal Reporter
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  • Two years after Seattle slashed its police budget, local business owners say crime has skyrocketed, with police unable to deal with thefts, homelessness and open-air drug use that plague the city.
  • Elliot Bay Community Fitness owner Rohan Joseph consistently posts videos of drug-intoxicated people causing disturbances in his area, with other local business owners reporting break-ins and theft at their establishments.
  • “I support my police, I support my firefighters, I support a lot of local charities, but it’s almost getting impossible to survive these days with a small business,” 206 Burger Company owner Suren Shrestha said.

Two years after Seattle slashed its police budget, local business owners say crime has skyrocketed, with police unable to deal with thefts, homelessness and open-air drug use that plague the city.

Seattle and broader King County had more than 13,000 homeless people within its boundaries in 2022, more than every other similar area except Los Angeles County and New York City, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, while the Seattle Police Department (SPD) lost more than 130 officers, KOMO News reported, as homicides, shootings and motor vehicle thefts increased. Local business owners say law enforcement is failing to effectively deter the rampant drug use and theft disturbing their livelihoods

Rohan Joseph, owner of Elliot Bay Community Fitness in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, has been posting videos on Twitter for months of people doing drugs, trying to sleep or otherwise causing disturbances outside his business.

“I’ll call 9-1-1 often,” Joseph told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Rarely do they come down anytime soon enough for it to matter.” (RELATED: New York Governor Promises Crackdown On Crime After Violent 2022)

Joseph said he called authorities when he found 11 people shooting up drugs outside his door. It took multiple waves of police officers to fully disperse the group, he reported.

“But it was like, they couldn’t do anything but be like, ‘Hey guys, can you please move on,'” Joseph recalled. “I don’t want them to be arrested per se, but by all means, take the drugs from them, make it harder for them to continue this activity. Right? Inhibit the ability to just open-air deal.”

Joseph told the DCNF he has been in business in the area for about nine years, with disruptive incidents surging in the past two years.

“I think that there needs to be more barriers in place that inhibit this type of behavior,” he said.

Joseph reported that an individual hit one neighboring business owner over the head with a hatchet, only to show up outside again days later.

Seattle’s City Council reduced SPD funding by almost 17% in its 2021 budget. The city’s 2023 budget permanently eliminates 30 unfilled SPD positions, but funds Mayor Bruce Harrell’s officer recruitment and retention plan, according to The Seattle Times.

206 Burger Company owner Suren Shrestha, whose business has three locations, complained of repeated break-ins and thefts. He said problems have worsened since the first two locations opened in 2017.

Suren Shrestha

Suren Shrestha

“These days people have no fear, they will just come in,” Shrestha said of disruptive individuals.

Shrestha reported five break-ins at 206 Burger Company’s Queen Anne neighborhood restaurant and five window-breaking incidents at their downtown location. He said a man threw the downtown restaurant’s cash register to the floor last year and dented its soda machine after trying to place an order.

“He grabbed a fire extinguisher that was on the wall and he threw it at my employees,” Shrestha told the DNCF.

Shrestha suggested a police car presence would deter many people from causing disturbances, saying he has become “an expert” at filing police reports after so many break-ins.

“Ten years ago, something happened, the police would come, take fingerprints and everything,” he noted. “Nothing right now.”

Shrestha called for city authorities to focus on crime and people camping on the street, claiming feelings of lacking safety are widespread.

“I support my police, I support my firefighters, I support a lot of local charities, but it’s almost getting impossible to survive these days with a small business,” he said.

Brian Meyers owns Tabletop Village, a Pokemon store and training gym in the Chinatown-International District. He told the DCNF that people often use drugs in front of the building.

The situation has generally worsened since COVID-19 emerged, despite temporarily improving at times, Meyers reported, referencing multiple shootings and drug overdose deaths in the neighborhood. He said someone broke a window at his store in the past year and stole $1,000 worth of merchandise.

Meyers told the DCNF that police are typically quite responsive to incidents but take their time if they learn the criminals have already left.

He recommended increased prevention efforts, better community resources and more places like his business where people can socialize and build a sense of community, rather than placing drug centers and homeless shelters in or near troubled areas.

“I believe that where it’s really going to start is if the city starts spending real money on these issues,” Meyers said. “You come to Chinatown and it’s still underdeveloped.”

Peter Morse, the owner of West Seattle’s Mission Cantina and new board member of the neighborhood’s chamber of commerce, said he and many neighbors struggle with transient people repeatedly stealing from them without sufficient law enforcement deterrence.

“You’re getting robbed, and you’re seeing these people in your neighborhood doing laundry next to you,” Morse told the DCNF, saying one man had stolen from his restaurant’s property multiple times, taking a pressure washer and a box of churros two weeks ago. Morse and an associate forced the man to return the pressure washer after one incident, but police subsequently suggested that the man had not really robbed the restaurant since he gave the property back, Morse reported.

“They will take anything that’s not nailed down,” he said.

In March 2020, King County Executive Dow Constantine ordered jails to stop accepting individuals charged with many nonviolent misdemeanors in response to COVID-19. A King County Sheriff’s deputy reportedly told KTTH in late summer 2022 that King County Jail would not book people for misdemeanor theft, saying, “They won’t accept it unless it’s felony level. So we can’t book any shoplifters when we catch them and we have to just let them go.”

Morse said he now keeps his establishment’s lights on constantly. An intoxicated man recently vandalized the inside of a nearby Pho’ restaurant before breaking bottles at a laundromat, with authorities only agreeing to take the man after he agreed to go to the hospital, according to Morse.

Washington state passed temporary legislation in 2021 deeming drug possession a misdemeanor and mandating police offer treatment or services instead of prosecution for an individuals’ first two offenses after the State Supreme Court overturned the state’s felony drug law, according to Axios.

Morse insisted he is not trying to come down on cops and would hate to be in their position. He said police are overworked, no longer feel the respect they used to and the profession has become incredibly dangerous.

“No one wants to be a police officer now,” Morse told the DCNF.

Morse suggested that violent transients victimizing local businesses should be arrested.

“They don’t take them away,” he lamented.

Morse originally moved to Seattle during the Grunge era, considering it the “craziest, coolest city ever” at the time.

“Everyone was always so proud of it, and now I don’t get that vibe anymore,” Morse explained, describing a now “out of control” homelessness problem. “I think people are a little embarrassed about Seattle.”

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