Mayor Bruce Harrell’s State of the City address carefully touched all the bases, equity, small business assistance, transportation (notably the West Seattle Bridge and the need for a fair settlement of the cement truck drivers’ strike to keep that on schedule along with other transportation projects), education in the form of pre-school funding and the Seattle Promise for college students, the budget (a relatively small shortfall expected for 2023), and credited every City Council member for areas – cooperative, of course – where he expects to work with them.
But, not surprisingly, two areas, public safety and homelessness, which over the past year through the recent city elections have risen to the top of residents’ attention—and irritation– got the new mayor’s major focus and about half the time.
Harrell emphasized what public opinion increasingly demands: more law enforcement, clearing of encampments and street camping. He did this, of course, with a real effort to ensure his listeners – the City Council and Seattle Channel viewers — that homeless campers would be offered the services, including housing and drug and alcohol treatment interventions that they might need. Crucially, and as a new effort, he said the city’s response to homelessness, now decentralized over seven departments, would be centralized to a single point of service, improving outreach and tracking of homeless individuals. He also promised the city would purchase hotels and some apartment buildings to provide some of the needed housing.
Most notably, after two years of variations on “defund the police” pushed by activists and most on the council, Harrell reassured Seattleites that the city would “enforce criminal laws” including “organized retail theft” while “wholly committed to avoiding the mistakes of the past.” The police under Harrell would not be a “militarized or racialized’ force,” he said.
The new mayor also promised the city would hire more officers. There are 125 budgeted for this year and Harrell said he would work to fill those positions consistent with community values, promising a department with “the right number and the right kind” of officers.