(Sgt. Joe Bauer shows neighbors a map of burglaries reported in the past month)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
JoDean Edelheit‘s neighbors might have wondered why police cars were in her Arbor Heights driveway Monday night – if not for the fact the neighbors were all in her living room with the uniformed visitors.
The Seattle Police Department has been offering the opportunity for these “living-room conversations” for a while – explaining them as opportunities to explore community concerns in informal settings. Monday afternoon, in fact, the SPD Blotter blog-format website published a short story about two recent ones. And that was not long after we got the call from JoDean, inviting us to the one scheduled to happen at her house hours later.
She hosted a dozen neighbors and four SPD reps. The questions weren’t surprising, but some of the answers were.
(From left: Officer Mazzuca, hostess JoDean, Officer Askew, Sgt. Bauer)
As with any such gathering, it began with a round of introductions.
From SPD HQ, Community Outreach Officer “Jojo” Cambronero talked about his early work in West Seattle, though he’s no longer based here. He explained the living-room conversations’ goals – not only to reduce crime, but to also reduce the fear of crime.
From the Southwest Precinct, Sgt. Joe Bauer, with deep roots in West Seattle. He explained that he’s been in charge of the day shift (noon to 8 pm) since mid-December; Officer Willie Askew, who has long worked patrol in the area; Officer Ken Mazzuca, a Community Police Team member who works in western West Seattle.
From the neighborhood – a mix of residents old and new. They had formed a Block Watch just a few months earlier and are proud of it; JoDean is Block Watch captain. Her invitees included Bob, a 24-year resident of the neighborhood, who said it’s time to get back to “watching out for each other.” There was Mary, there almost 20 years but a New Yorker once upon a time, which gave her “a whole different feeling about crime.” There was the person who self-identified as “the neighborhood snoop, always home during the day.”
“We like the neighborhood snoops,” offered someone in the SPD contingent.
There was Chad, who installed the Block Watch sign. Matt, pastor of a nearby church. The neighbor who said he goes by “Rambo” – a takeoff on his surname, not necessarily his style – a Vietnam veteran who spends time volunteering to help other vets figure out their benefits. And yet others.
Sgt. Bauer explained how the “sectors” work – here’s the map:
JoDean’s neighborhood is in William 3, which stretches from Morgan Junction to Seola Beach Drive. “A large, large district,” said Officer Askew, who patrols it.
On a good day, the William sector – western West Seattle – might have eight officers. On a bad day, maybe 4. “That can get a little busy,” Sgt. Bauer said, in an understatement.
Then came the questions – starting with recent incidents, first, the Westwood Village gunfire that led to lockdowns at three area schools. One neighbor’s daughter attends Denny International Middle School, and the question was about the lockdown/shelter in place, not the actual incident. Sgt. Bauer explained that when something like that happens, the chief dispatcher calls nearby schools, tells them what’s going on, and it’s the principal’s choice, though “it’s pretty obvious when they need to” (go into lock down) – “any time it involves a gun, a person heading toward a school … we advised that it would be wise.” So then, he explained, the schools are kept advised of the “progress of the call, the likelihood the person is still in the area.” The actual search never involved the schools’ campuses, he said, but officers were on both sides “and roaming.”
Sgt. Bauer said that while those on the force, even those who aren’t directly involved with an investigation, often get a hunch about a case, this one had them “stumped” … but, he sought to reassure the group, “I can tell you one thing, it’s getting a LOT of resources.”
The next question: What can you do to protect yourself if someone breaks into your home? Is it legal to fight back?
To protect yourself, said the police, yes.
There was a question about speeders in the neighborhood, a problem that neighbor Tammy said “has been going on forever.” Officer Askew didn’t think a traffic circle would work in the neighborhood because of the way the streets are configured, but a speed bump might be possible, and after mentioning that he is radar-certified, he said he could come back out “when the weather improves.” And they should talk to SDOT, he advised – “if everyone from the block gets together and contacts SDOT, it gets their attention.” (Editor’s note: here’s more on the SDOT Neighborhood Traffic Calming program.)
Then the talk went right back to burglaries. Sgt. Bauer had brought a map showing burglaries around West Seattle in the preceding 4 weeks – 37 in all – and passed it around. He explained that he is always seeking to analyze the trends – “I bother these guys when they are on burglary calls all the time, I want to see what the common factors are.” Burglary targets, he said, often have unkempt yards, little side windows “to go into,” glass back doors, “all those ’50s and ’40s style houses.”
And then there is the behavior you’ve heard about a million times. Burglars case the house, knock, “no one answers, they go around and look for a window to break into.” This may happen repeatedly in an area where they get comfortable, or where they know “how easy it is to escape from the area … it might be a couple blocks from their ‘safe haven’.”
To protect yourself, your family, your home, think about how “to harden yourself as a target.” Try to see things through a burglar’s eyes – have you had “a big-screen TV box out in your yard for a month and a half? Believe it or not, these guys walk around and look for this stuff. … It’s all the things normal citizens DON’T think about.”
You can call police and request an assessment. “We know how people break into houses.” And you might get bonus information, Sgt. Bauer joked, “We’ll share all the good coffee spots we know and do an assessment at the same time.”
More practical advice – When someone comes to the door, don’t answer it, but don’t not answer it. Sgt. Bauer recalled role-playing when his kids were just old enough to be home alone, making sure whoever was at the door heard them calling, “Dad, someone’s at the door” (regardless of whether Dad was there or not). And remember, he said, “Bad guys don’t like lights, they don’t like noise, they don’t like dogs.”
Officer Mazzuca interjected, “It’s a good point he’s making – light is good – you want people to be able to see your house.”
And if you’re gone for a while on vacation, make sure someone knows. It was a revelation to most of those in the room that you can make a “request to watch” through SPD, and when an officer “gets an extra five minutes,” they’ll roll past the house.
And, “we can all watch out for each other,” offered one neighbor.
Sgt. Bauer nodded. “This is going to blossom, once you start inviting people, get everyone involved.”
As the conversation went on, that blossoming was in evidence. One neighbor confessed she’d actually answered her door when someone rang the bell in the middle of the night, and tried to answer that person’s sounded-suspicious-in-retrospect request for help.
“You’d have had me calling 911 ten minutes ago, and I carry a gun!” laughed the sergeant, gently.
“Sometimes we feel compelled to answer the door when someone’s there,” Officer Mazzuca sympathized.
The word “don’t” rippled through the room.
Then a question that comes up again and again: When is it OK to call 911?
“If I (answer that), they might not call when they need to,” said Officer Askew.
So, the police’s message was: “Don’t second guess yourself so much, dial those three numbers.”
And yes, even if it’s “just” a suspicious person. You’ve heard that before. But we don’t usually hear why. Sgt. Bauer explained: “if it’s someone suspicious, we can come up, talk to them, have an informal conversation, find out why they are in the area … we can find out so much by talking to them. … We call it a street check.” Those street checks, he explained, can even be coded, and mapped. Perhaps they talk to a certain person once. Then “let’s say a few days go by, we get another call about the guy, incidents start happening, we can do a search, a map, overlay where this guy was contacted by us … doesn’t make him THE suspect, but it’s worth checking him out a little (more closely).”
“How can we help you guys?” asked the pastor.
Watch, and call when you see something, reiterated Officer Mazzuca. That, he pointed out, has led to numerous arrests. “When something doesn’t look right, couple guys going around the back of the house … that’s the time to call.” Don’t be surprised to see that in the daytime, since that is when most burglaries happen (contrary to persistent misconception).
And take pictures if you can, added Sgt. Bauer. He brought up an incident covered here on WSB – a crash on SW Holden in Highland Park.
“(People) got out and started grabbing what was obviously stolen merchandise out of the back of that crashed Jeep.” They left the scene, but when police arrived, “a neighbor comes out and brings the picture, now, that kind of helps us. A cell phone camera, some nice discreet photos … ‘here’s the hit-and-run driver, here’s hit plate’ … Now, don’t endanger yourself by running up and taking photos, but” – they can be useful.
Right on schedule, around 8 pm, the gathering started breaking up, so informal that there were no closing speeches – conversations broke up into one-on-one chats, while some went back to JoDean’s kitchen for a snack. We asked her how far in advance she had called to ask to host one of these living-room conversations; about a month, she said. If you’re interested in hosting one – this SPD webpage explains how to make a request.