Last year, when nerves were on edge along Alki following the May 1st shooting, West Seattle police leaders from the Southwest Precinct were at the next Alki Community Council meeting to brief the community (WSB coverage here). This year, in a pre-emptive strike, they came to the ACC last night to share updates on their work as well as spring/summer plans – coincidentally, on a night with weather so nice, the beach was still busy after the meeting, and we spotted three SPD cars in one block. At the ACC, Capt. Joe Kessler (photo left), Lt. Norm James (not pictured) and Sgt. Joel Sweetland (photo right) spent close to an hour on updates and Q/A:
One reassurance from Capt. Kessler – despite the city’s budget crunch, he’s been told Southwest Precinct staffing will not be cut. He mentioned a budget briefing downtown yesterday morning and says that a “couple of officers” will soon join the precinct, which in his view is better-staffed now “than it’s ever been.”
However, this year even more than last, he says, they don’t have a big bank of overtime on which to draw – which is how they had given Alki extra coverage in past years. So, they’re going to be “creative.” What does that mean? According to the captain, they analyze crime patterns and stay flexible: “We have the ability to move our guys, so if we have (officers) up in The Junction but Alki’s getting busier, we can move them down. We also have an extra officer in the Anti-Crime Team, and we’ll be adjusting their hours so they will be available for a little more proactive work down here.” The precinct also has what he referred to as an “0-9 car” – not on an assigned beat like the William (mostly western West Seattle) or Frank (mostly eastern West Seattle) sectors – that will be “working the business district” as needed to handle “issues.”
Sometimes, those “issues” include traffic. Capt. Kessler mentioned having spoken with his predecessor at the precinct, Capt. Mike Fann, who’s now the head of the Traffic Unit, saying “they’ll work with us to direct (their) officers as we need them … But again, as we stand now, I think our staffing’s going to be the best it’s ever been.”
Traffic issues came up later in the Q/A, and Lt. James mentioned that once again, if traffic along Alki/Harbor Avenue backs up all the way to the California Way turnoff by Seacrest (map), they’ll shut down the street there and divert all westbound traffic that way till it clears.
After Capt. Kessler’s overview, the 20 or so ACC attendees got a street-level take from Sgt. Joel Sweetland, night-shift supervisor: “In the four years since I took over this area, I’ve seen violent crime on Alki go from – well, it wasn’t that bad, but now it’s down to almost zero. Zero robberies, zero rapes, zero shootings except (May 1st last year) and it wasn’t Alki-related. Incidents involving weapons are almost nonexistent any more, and that’s different from when I first got here. We’ve reduced the gang activity, reduced the large roving bands of youths … Yes, we still have alcohol-related traffic issues, yes, we still have domestic violence and property crimes, general nuisance, but I got (rid of) the bad stuff – now let’s work on whatever’s left.”
Sgt. Sweetland also spoke of the difficulty posed by shift change in the early evening – keeping Alki covered during what can, on a warm summer night, be a particularly busy time at the beach – but said they’d worked in the past to ensure coverage and would do so again.
Q/A ensued, with a question about police’s role if there’s a major earthquake. Capt. Kessler said he’d specialized in preparedness in previous roles, and talked about department plans calling for each region to “go into an area command … like an island unto ourselves” with the first responsibility being to check infrastructure: “… to make sure we know where we can go.”
The phrase “island unto ourselves” led one man to ask how the upcoming closures and detours will affect West Seattle police. “I want a bigger water taxi!” the captain joked, adding simply, “It’s going to be challenging – to say the least.”
And he had one more major point – the one we’ve written about over and over and over again, since we get to cover many police presentations before local community groups – IF IT’S HAPPENING NOW, CALL 911. Even if it’s just something that “looks” suspicious. As Capt. Kessler put it, “Our real job is not to arrest people. Our goal isn’t to write tickets – our goal is to prevent crime. That’s the number one thing. If our presence defuses a situation, that’s why we show up. We want to be enough places so that when guys are thinking about ‘capering,’ they’ll think, ‘We don’t want to do this in the Southwest Precinct’.” But still, as good as our guys are, you’ll see a lot more than they will, because you’re (in your neighborhood) 24 hours a day.”
And if you call 911 but hang up before talking to someone – watch out, police will turn up at your doorstep. “Suspicious 911 hangup is one of our highest-priority calls,” the captain noted. Sgt. Sweetland added, “That’s one of my favorite calls. We’ve stopped two armed robberies in progress, a nasty domestic …” all because someone started or tried to call 911 and hung up.
Police were asked about squatters in abandoned buildings, like the vacant Shoremont Apartments at 57th/Alki. They said it’s a frustration for them too. At that point, Alki Homestead owner Tom Lin told them he’d had a problem with people breaking into his fire-closed building. He said he keeps boarding it up and boarding it up, but it’s broken into repeatedly. Police stressed that he needs to call them when he notices that again, so they can help.
OTHER ALKI COMMUNITY COUNCIL NOTES: The group voted to send the city a letter asking for help with enforcing the leash law, after complaints of repeated problems with offleash dogs at the beach. … ACC is looking for a sponsor for an outdoor concert by the Statue of Liberty Plaza on September 12th, and talking about a possible dog show in conjunction with the event.
The Alki Community Council meets on the third Thursday of the month, 7 pm, Alki UCC Church.