More than 60 people gathered at West Seattle Church of the Nazarene last night to brainstorm, commiserate, and most of all, prepare to fight back against burglaries and car prowls in the greater Fairmount Springs neighborhood – neighborhood organizer and e-mail-list-keeper Paul says his list, approaching 200 members, has grown to include folks in a wide area between The Junction and Morgan Junction. We reported last night on a side discussion at the meeting – how to handle door-to-door solicitors. Now, the main discussion: what can be done to deter crime. Some of it, you’ve heard before; some of it, maybe not. Read on:
The neighbor who facilitated the meeting opened with: “We are all here because we are worried” – but worry shouldn’t translate into paralysis – and clearly wasn’t going to, with these determined neighbors.
Community Police Team Officer Ken Mazzuca was there, along with deputy city attorney Beth Gappert. But the meeting was neighbor-led. Early on, there was a discussion of street lighting, which is all but nonexistent in some of the nearby neighborhoods. Mazzuca offered that while burglars prefer to hit empty residences during the daytime, for the best nighttime protection, “I like lighting where people are able to see the home” – rather than flooding the street – “your neighbors are the ones who will see something and allow someone to see the house, see the property. If you add lighting to your home, go out in the street and look at what you can see. If you can’t see it, your neighbors won’t see it. Same goes for shrubbery … if I can get behind a great big bush, and there’s a window, I can (break in) without being seen.”
The officer was asked if he had statistics regarding whether the neighborhood’s perception of higher-than-elsewhere property crime was accurate. Short answer: No statistics handy. (WSB side note – tonight’s West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting should include the latest trends for the greater West Seattle area.)
Regarding car theft: Where one car is stolen, another is often found, as thieves often drive one car till it runs out of gas or has another problem, and then hop right over to stel another one. “That’s why they are found all over the place,” Officer Mazzuca noted.
Regarding information to give police: The more specifics, the better – this reminder came from neighbors as well as the officer – not just when you are reporting something that is happening now or just happened, but also when reporting something that you see on a recurring basis; in addition to a description of the person, exactly what you’ve seen them do, where, and how, can make a difference.
Regarding self-defense: How far can you go in defense of your property? “You have to make the decision whether you feel threatened” with bodily harm – but in general, you should keep in mind that if you hurt someone who may not have directly threatened you with violence, you might be prosecuted; Gappert brought up the case of a man who recently pleaded guilty to manslaughter for shooting and killing a car prowler.
Neighbor-to-neighbor advice: Get out and walk around. Know the people who live near you. Know what is routine to see in your neighborhood, and what’s not. And if you see someone you’ve never seen before, talking to them (“hi! where are you going?”) might be a deterrent if they are up to no good – or at the very least an icebreaker for a legitimate visitor or new arrival. Most of those in the room indicated during a show of hands that they belong to Block Watches, but they were reminded that those are tools that only work as well as they are used – keep the list of other Block Watch members’ contact information someplace handy, so that if you need to get the word out fast, you can find the names and numbers.
Car prowls: The time-tested advice was repeated – make sure you’re not leaving anything of value in your car. “If I took my flashlight out there right now and looked into cars, what would I see?” Officer Mazzuca asked. “Just take the stuff out of your car – take the opportunity away.” Are car alarms a deterrent? he was asked. Certainly can be, the officer replied.
Abandoned buildings: An empty building along California SW south of The Junction was brought up – vacant since the site went into foreclosure when a development proposal stalled. Officer Mazzuca said he was surprised to hear that transients and drug users had apparently returned to the building, which was at one point scheduled for demolition; two area residents said they had boarded it up repeatedly, but the barriers were in turn repeatedly kicked in and removed, and they’ve found hypodermic needles strewn all around the property. Mazzuca and Gappert both urged that complaints be filed with the Department of Planning and Development, which requires property owners to secure vacant buildings – the online complaint form is here. They also warned residents to avoid direct confrontation with those who are using the building illegally: “Never do anything that’s going to put your safety in jeopardy.”
Calling 911 vs. the non-emergency number (206-625-5011): Officer Mazzuca repeated the advice you’ve read here time and time again – “If you think it MIGHT be worth calling 911, go ahead and call … it’s the same dispatcher who answers, and they will prioritize your call.” Call loads vary, and sometimes, he acknowledged, you will get a fast response to a relatively minor incident, while sometimes you will get a slower response to something bigger. What if you don’t feel like the dispatcher is responding to you appropriately? There’s advice in this report we published after an “all about 911” briefing at the WSCPC earlier this year.
Neighbors concluded the meeting with a promise of watchfulness and talk of organized neighborhood walking patrols. One more reminder – whichever West Seattle neighborhood is yours, the newest crime-trend information – is available tonight at the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council‘s monthly meeting, 7 pm, Southwest Precinct. If you’d like information on setting up a Block Watch, or other ways to prevent crime, here’s how to reach the Southwest Precinct’s Crime Prevention Coordinator Benjamin Kinlow.