IT'S LUNCHTIME in the heart of Pioneer Square, and Derik looks suspicious. "You see them over there," he says, pointing to a crowd of teenagers huddled together in Occidental Park. "Looks like a little drug dealing going on." Is Derik's concern just neighborhood curiosity? No, he's a member of the Safety Ambassadors, a controversial organization that's acting more like the police every day.

Part tourist guide, part security officer, the Safety Ambassadors are the creation of the Metropolitan Improvement District (MID), a coalition of downtown businesses ["Going Private," Pat Kearney, Aug 24]. Three months ago, when The Stranger questioned the new security force, director Bill Detrich assured us that the Safety Ambassadors were average citizens. "We're just like anybody else; we call 911 to reach the police. We don't have any closer contact with them than you do," said Detrich. However, counter to Detrich's assurances, the relationship between ambassadors and police has grown closer: They now share headquarters and equipment.

Last week, the Safety Ambassadors opened up brand-new headquarters on Third and Yesler, where they welcomed their new tenants, the Seattle police. "It's kind of like a pit stop where they talk about some of the problem spots and criminals in the area," says Detrich. The facility contains computer terminals, telephones, and extra gear for ambassadors and police officers. The base also serves as a meeting area for local business organizations.

In addition, the MID has begun hiring off-duty police officers to train and "familiarize the officers" with the Safety Ambassadors, says West Precinct Captain Jim Pugel. Six times a month, four police officers take the ambassadors on "high-visibility patrols" with a goal to "associate in the [criminal's] mind that the police and the ambassadors are in close contact," says Detrich. No longer relegated to 911 calls like regular folks, the ambassadors on these "high-visibility patrols" carry radios that the police can answer directly if there is a problem. With new headquarters and such close contact between the two groups, the bigger problem is seeing the line between ambassador and police officer.

pat@thestranger.com

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