Crime and Safety on Capitol Hill

By Savannah Kennedy

Originally published in the December 2014 issue. 

Last summer Capitol Hill saw an alarming spike in crime, ranging from robberies and armed robberies to assaults and LGBTQ related hate crimes. Seattle was ranked third in the nation for LGBTQ hate crimes in 2013 and this past August unfortunately gained the ranking of being this year’s peak month for robberies.

Michael Wells, executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, weighed in on the factors behind the Hill being a robbery target: “We have lots of people out on the streets,” said Wells. “Lots of people who have been drinking. Lots of people who are working late in bars. Lots of people who are walking home with cash in their pockets.”

Seattle Police Department Chief O’Toole announced late this past summer that “SPD gang unit personnel will be active in Pike/Pine and around Cal Anderson to help root out reported issues with groups of young males preying upon patrons and staff of local nightlife establishments in the overnight hours around Capitol Hill.”  Over the last few months officers have also been working on what they call “short term enhancement” which is simply having more officers out on foot on weekend nights.

“They’ve started increasing the amount of officers on bikes and on foot,” stated student Noah Goodwin. “I believe just being able to see a police officer physically standing there helps people to feel safe.”

Capitol Hill once was considered the safe haven for Seattle’s LGBTQ community, but there has been a significant rise in sexuality related hate crimes as of late in the area. A few weeks ago, students were alarmed to hear about a disturbing incident where a man was harassed and taunted with gay slurs before being beaten so savagely that witnesses at first thought he may have been shot. The man did nothing to provoke his attackers and no arrests were made, though SPD’s Bias Crimes unit is reviewing the case.

“If violence like that is going on right outside of the school, then how am I supposed to feel safe?” asked student Michelle Ford. “Would you feel safe? Anything can happen to anyone—that’s why it’s so unsettling.”

Elman McClain,  Director of Public Safety at Seattle Central, wants students to know that they are protected here on campus.

“We try to make it feel as safe as we can by having visibility, having officers out lets people know there is help nearby,” said McClain.

In fact, bike or ground patrol SPD officers come on to campus and do a quick walk through the building about once or twice a week just to check in, all part of the east precincts’ efforts to increase visibility.

SCC has approximately 11 full and part-time officers on the main campus: two officers who work at the vocational institute on Jackson, and two part time officers that work in the wood tech center at SCC. On any given day the school will have two or three officers out at a time, before 7:00 PM.  After seven, security transitions to one overnight officer and a supervisor. Seattle Central now has 24-hour and weekend coverage.

“I dont even think the police on campus have real authority, do they?” said another student who asked to remain anonymous. “They can’t arrest anyone, and criminal activity still takes place daily around and on campus, so why would I depend on them for help?”

To a degree, this is true. Campus security does not have the power to arrest anyone, but if they feel that the person is a threat to themselves or those around them, officers will detain them until city police can arrive to assess the situation. SCC now has a very good working relationship with emergency providers, whereas a few years ago, the schools relations with them were more sporadic. Today we have open lines of communication that pave the way for a safer school environment.

Director McClain understands students concerns regarding this issue, saying, “There’s only so much security can do here. We are trying to work with student government and student groups to find ways to effectively get information out about personal safety. I believe in working with students and faculty face to face, I think its the best way to get everyone engaged. It’s just hard because often students aren’t interested until it’s too late and they have already been targeted.”

Many faculty have also expressed their concern for our international population here at Seattle Central. The international students, many times, have no where to go when they get out of class so they either go back to their apartments or explore the area. Officers urge these students to remember that when they leave campus, it’s all about awareness and trusting your instinct.

“That goes back all the way to when we were kids,” says McClain. We knew when something was wrong or when we were in trouble. As we grow older we kind of dispel that sense and say things like ‘Oh that won’t happen to me’.  People need to remember to get back to the basics. If it doesnt feel right don’t do it.”

The community hopes for peaceful days, but it is Capitol Hill and it is Seattle Central so there is bound to be some civil unrest. The best thing to do is to be aware. Here are the three biggest pieces of advice authorities have for students to stay safe on the Hill:

Be aware of your surroundings -Look up from your phone to acclimate yourself to who and what is around you.

Go out in groups– Taking friends with you is always a good way to feel more secure. There will be more eyes to watch out for oddities and it is especially helpful at night when people tend to be coming out of bars or restaurants intoxicated.

Use common sense-  It’s easy and its the best tool we have, you know when something feels dangerous; so listen to that tiny voice inside of you that tells you something’s not right.


*** All graphs used for this story found on


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