Seattle crime chills, but what place is safe?

My family has a favorite cheap-dinner spot, smack in the middle of Seattle’s Belltown.

We don’t get to the big, bad metropolis too often. When we do, we frequently end up at Mama’s Mexican Kitchen on Second Avenue. You can get a decent tostada anyplace, but since college I’ve relished the funky ambience and all-Elvis decor at this place.

I haven’t been to Mama’s in a while, certainly not since a videotaped Aug. 25 beating and a rash of other highly publicized assaults and shootings in downtown Seattle.

Is it safe?

In the past month, Seattle police have said overall crime in the city is down from years past. Still, it’s hard not to ask "is it safe?" if you watch bleeds-it-leads TV news.

Is anywhere safe?

This week, a place as hallowed as a Bellevue Square Nordstrom became ground zero in the shooting of a bank robbery suspect. Last week, a college student was attacked in her sorority house on a stately street just off the University of Washington campus. Over the weekend, one person was killed and eight were hurt in two shootings, one near Safeco Field, the other outside a Pioneer Square hip-hop music club.

Does it feel safe in Seattle? Ask real experts, workers and students who head south daily. At the park-and-ride lot off 128th Street south of Everett, commuters I spoke with Tuesday weren’t overly concerned about safety.

"It’s not a new thing," Everett’s Julie Gust said of Seattle crime. The UW student heard no talk on campus about the sorority incident in her first week of the fall term. "It all just tends to get blown up by the media," Gust said.

Others, however, sense new unease on Seattle streets.

"I think people are more nervous," said Leslie Ferguson of Everett, who works for Regence Blue Shield in downtown Seattle. "If you’re walking around Westlake and a car backfires, everybody gets nervous. If there’s a big group of kids, everybody is aware of them."

Even by day in the city’s upscale retail core, Ferguson won’t walk around "unless I’m with a friend."

Yet almost to a person, commuters reminded me that Seattle doesn’t have a corner on crime. We have our share here, and then some.

"I’ve had my house broken into twice," said Ferguson, who uses sticks to safeguard her windows and has an alarm that’s always on. Several years ago, she recalled, two bodies were found not far from her Paine Field-area home.

Paula Weaks feels safe at her Seattle job, at Ninth Avenue and Stewart Street. The Everett woman hears talk of the city’s spate of violence, but it doesn’t hit home because "we live in Snohomish County."

"But if you look at the history of Everett the past six months, we have our own violence," Weaks said.

That is too true. I have trouble keeping the mayhem straight.

The shooting deaths last spring of two teens outside Dennis Cramm’s home in south Everett grabbed the headlines. Other local cases received much less media glare.

In April, David Scott Donaldson was shot to death in his Hoyt Avenue home in Everett. Also that month, Erick Lee Allenby was slain at the Delta Apartments in northeast Everett. In May, William Duff Clanton Jr. died after being found at the Brittany Court Apartments near Everett with head injuries and a stab wound. In August, bullets killed Maria Lynn Berg at the Everett Country Club Apartments. This month, Bruce John MacAulay was shot to death at the Huntington Park Apartments in Everett.

No Seattle crime is more terrible than what happened in July in Skagit County. Scott Kinkele, a Whidbey Island Naval Air Station officer, died in a shooting on a road I think of as a pretty place for a Sunday drive. Two men have pleaded guilty and a third has been charged in what authorities alleged was a "thrill killing."

At the park-and-ride lot, Shane Hamilton said "over the years Seattle went from being cool to being intense."

"It’s got a lot to do with dope, and gangs and fake gangs," said the 22-year-old, who lived in Los Angeles and south Seattle before moving to Everett.

Seattle, sad to say, is not the only place that’s changed.

Dee Howell of Marysville works for Airborne Express in both the Bellevue area and Seattle’s Belltown. The three-block walk from a parking garage to her Seattle workplace makes her edgy.

"I’ve talked to other girls there; they don’t feel safe," Howell said.

Yet asked if she feels safer in Marysville, Howell said, "I think that’s a false sense."

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