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Police chief proposes revised nuisance ordinance

It took nearly two years for the Munchbar in Bellevue Square to be undone by its own notoriety as a place where police officers were constantly responding to drunken assaults, disorderly conduct and finally a fatal shooting that was its death knell.

Bellevue Police Chief Linda Pillo was back before City Council on Monday, Feb. 24 with a revised ordinance proposal that would allow her to declare a business or residence a chronic nuisance, a tool she said would curb bad practices like what had gone on at Munchbar.

"Can you imagine what kind of drain that was on officer resources," the chief said of the 377 calls for service the police received during Munchbar's short time in Bellevue Square.

That number was likely greater, said Lt. Andrew Popochock, because police weren't counting calls that occurred after a person left Munchbar and was arrested or contacted elsewhere.

If the ordinance passes, the police chief will have the ability to declare a business or residence a chronic nuisance if three or more defined activities occur there within 60 days or seven within a 12-month period. The chief can do the same if the property has been the subject of at least two court determinations that specified crimes have occurred there.

"We don't have the ability at this time to tell a club you need to improve your safety, because a club can say, 'To heck with you, we're not going to do it,' and that's where we end up with the problem the chief talked about," said Popochock.

An owners of a property declared a chronic nuisance would be able to work with the chief to remedy the problems cited by the department. If, after a certain time, the property owner does not correct the problem, they would be subjected to penalties.

The ordinance was drafted to be similar to what the city of Seattle has had in place since 2010. A 2011 annual report from the city attorney's office states the ordinance appears to be working well with all properties declared a chronic nuisance eliminating or greatly reducing their impact on the community.

Councilmember Jennifer Robertson said she support the ordinance, but also questioned whether staffing in the police department was adequate enough to handle the city's needs.

"Do we need more police officers downtown?" she asked Pillo. "If you do, it's a budget year. We want it to be safe."

Pillo said she is working on a proposal to restore bike patrols downtown and to add more police investigators to her staff

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