Amazon has said it will shutter its Seattle CBD office until the crime wave ends. Photo / Getty Images
In a damning indictment of one of America’s largest cities, Amazon will follow McDonald’s in shuttering CBD locations due to a crime wave. The tech giant will relocate 1800 staff from one of its flagship offices in a major US city due to soaring crime rates.
The second largest US-based firm, with a market capitalisation of US$1.49 trillion A($2.07 trillion), has told workers at its Seattle CBD tower block not to return to the office after a teenage boy was shot dead on the street outside the building last week.
It comes just weeks after fast food chain McDonald’s shuttered its downtown Seattle branch also due to an uptick in crime in the city.
According to a report by the Seattle Police Department, violent crime has increased by 20 per cent with the city centre considered a “hot spot”.
Police have said they will step up patrols in the once thriving CBD, but critics have said it’s too little, too late.
Seattle’s downtown area is home to renowned attractions including the landmark Space Needle and Pike Place Market, where coffee behemoth Starbucks first set up shop.
The area has also become a tech hub with Amazon’s headquarters in the city. Part of the company moved into a former Macy’s department store on the corner of Third Ave and Pine St, bringing even more people into downtown area.
But the pandemic saw both office workers and tourists vanish from the CBD, exacerbating existing crime issues in the area.
Last Wednesday, 15-year-old Michael del Bianco was shot and left for dead just metres from the Amazon building, reported TV channel Fox 13.
“There has got to be police. There has been such lack of police in the last two years when we needed them most,” Jodi Gulling, del Bianco’s grandmother, told local TV station NBC King 5.
“I hear about the area [where her grandson was killed] so when I found out that’s where he was shot, I was just like, ‘Oh my God, this is not happening’.”
Seattle’s downtown succumbing to violence
Police have said shoplifting and drug sales are fuelling the crime wave in Seattle’s urban core.
It’s all become too much for Amazon which on Friday announced that staff would not be returning to the CBD building until the situation was sorted out.
“Given recent incidents near Third and Pine, we’re providing employees currently at that location with alternative office space elsewhere,” an Amazon spokesman said in a statement to the Seattle Times.
“We are hopeful that conditions will improve and that we will be able to bring employees back to this location when it is safe to do so.”
Even Macca’s is shut
In early March, McDonald’s flagship restaurant in Seattle, at the same intersection, also closed.
Talking to local newspaper the Post-Millennial, McDonald’s franchise owner David Santillanes said: “My top priority is the health and safety of our employees and customers.
“Out of concern for their safety, we temporarily closed our restaurant located at 1530 Third Ave following last week’s shooting.”
That was a different shooting to the one which claimed the life of Michael del Bianco.
In 2021, overall crime in Seattle increased by 10 per cent, according to the police department.
“Robbery, aggravated assaults and motor vehicle thefts were significantly high this year when compared to a five-year weighted average,” stated the report.
While violent crime was indeed up in Seattle, murders were down by 25 per cent.
Seattle has been a flashpoint for police and community relations following the uproar caused by the death of George Floyd in 2020 in Minneapolis at the hands of officers.
It was just one of many US cities where they were called to de-fund or radically restructure police departments.
In November, Seattle City Council approved a US$356 million (A$491 million) budget cut to the police force, although politicians were insistent at least 125 more officers would be hired despite the financial squeeze.
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, who was elected in November, has said he will crack down on crime.
A city spokesman said it would “take time” to resolve “longstanding safety issues” in the city.
“Mayor Harrell will continue to develop a comprehensive approach to public safety in collaboration with police and safety advocates, community members, service providers and businesses, including Amazon, to activate, revitalise and restore downtown for all.”
Police have now stationed a mobile precinct on the notorious intersection and have put more officers on bikes to patrol the area.
According to Gulling the increased police presence was too little, too late.
“We’re not afraid,” she told NBC King 5.
“We want to stand up for our kids, for our community, for everyone and it’s not something I’m going to take lightly, there has to be justice done in that area for everyone that has been hurt.”
A more visible police presence is a first step to try to coax big employers back to Seattle’s CBD. But that will only happen if crime can be brought under control and fewer people, like teenager Michael del Bianco, are shot in cold blood in the heart of one of America’s largest cities.