(Parks boss Christopher Williams, left, and WS Crime Prevention Council president Richard Miller)
How safe are West Seattle’s parks, and can they be made safer?
Those questions – stirred by last month’s unsolved murder of Greggette Guy, who police have said they believe was killed at Emma Schmitz Viewpoint – led the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council to invite acting Parks Superintendent Christopher Williams to its April meeting. (Here’s our separate update on the murder case itself.)
Williams, who grew up in West Seattle and is a Chief Sealth graduate, spoke and answered questions – as did two Parks managers who accompanied him – for more than 45 minutes in the Southwest Precinct meeting room on Tuesday night.
No big announcements, no “aha” moments, not even any extensive discussion of (nor questions about) Schmitz Viewpoint – but here’s how it unfolded (including video, if you would like to see and hear for yourself):
That’s our unedited video of Williams’ guest appearance. Now, the highlights:
Parks and Police work closely together, Williams said. But separate from SPD involvement, here are some of the factors that play into park safety:
-How densely park is vegetated
-Inherent design factors that make it a safe place for people to hide out
-How well used is the park? Are there legitimate reasons for people to go there … activities, games, lights … one indicator is the number of women and small children you see there. (And if a park is not being used, why not?)
*You, the citizen: “We can’t have safe parks if people don’t pick up the phone and call 911 if people are not willing to report suspicious activities and behavior.”
He acknowledged concerns voiced by citizens about the safety of some West Seattle parks, but inferred they are often isolated concerns: For example, he says illegal activities in Lincoln Park are very low in proportion to how big it is.
Then he opened the floor to Q/A. First question came from a woman who said she lives near Longfellow Creek and had noticed lots of illegal activity, but recently, a lot of brush has come down – “is that going to help it a lot?” Especially along 26th, she said, “You see people who don’t LOOK like nature lovers,” and she also wondered about prostitution.
“We’re doing this all over the system,” said a Parks manager who accompanied Williams. The acting superintendent followed up by mentioning Parks restoration/invasives-removal work.
When the Longfellow Creek resident asked about how broken glass and other detritus is cleaned up, Williams talked about budget cuts that have hit Parks in recent years, and decisions his staff has to make about how to get “the greatest bang for the buck” with their limited resources. They maintain parks to a “clean, safe standard,” Williams said, but that may not mean they can get out to pick up every patch of broken glass. There’s a lot of reliance on park stewards and other volunteers, said Carol Baker, who leads Parks maintenance in this area. If you see something you think Parks needs to address, “give us a call.”
Williams then reminded everyone there is a consolidated “code of conduct” for Seattle Parks (see it here), with a list of what behaviors are illegal, or require a permit. “The rules are pretty straightforward and not as obscure as people try to allege that they are,” said Williams.
Could inmates do maintenance work, as they do sometimes at sites? Williams said that veers into “labor agreement” territory. “We are doing some creative things and we ARE pushing the envelope on volunteer activity,” he did say.
Asked about Lincoln Park, he said they don’t get a lot of reports of illegal activity there. Precinct commander Capt. Steve Paulsen jumped in at that point and said that most of the reports they get involves juvenile drinking – so officers will go in but it’s like “herding cats … as far as crime, dangerous crime, it’s mostly kids.”
What about hiking there alone at night? a woman followed up. You might want to walk with somebody, wherever you are, not just in that park or any park, the captain suggested.
Another issue brought up: Coyotes in Camp Long. “Does that present a problem (for humans)?”
William replied, “Urban wildlife is a serious issue” and recalled the “coexistence” workshops that have been held in the past. “We’re trying to make sure we are educating our neighbors.” He suggested maybe there should be workshops at Camp Long. And no, the Parks team replied on followup, coyotes have NOT attacked humans. The attendee found that hard to believe since she had seen a half-dozen or so together; Baker said they engage in “pack behavior” during the season when they are raising young, in particular.
*Williams acknowledged that it’s a problem that many parks don’t have bathrooms – which gets in the way of the “activation” he had spoken about earlier.
*Asked about 4th of July illegal-fireworks damage, “There are no good answers. On the one hand, closing a park just punishes the people who want to go to the park and use it legitimately, so we’ve tried to steer away from that.” They do staff parks on the 4th – racking up lots of overtime – and also rely on watchful neighbors. There remained a good deal of frustration on this point, and no real resolution.
*One attendee said more people should volunteer in ways big and small; he talked about picking up trash while out and about.
What about lights or security improvements? Such projects might be suitable for the Parks and Green Spaces Levy Opportunity Fund, offered Pete Spalding, a meeting attendee who chairs the levy Oversight Committee (and also serves on the precinct’s Advisory Council). He mentioned the upcoming workshops for prospective applicants (as reported here; overall info about the Opportunity Fund can be found here).
OTHER CRIME PREVENTION COUNCIL NOTES: Operations Lt. Pierre Davis announced Drug Takeback Day at the precinct 10 am-2 pm on April 28th, one week from this Saturday (here’s the listing on the WSB West Seattle Events calendar); Karen Berge from the West Seattle Blockwatch Captains Network mentioned that their next meeting is on April 24th and will feature Community Police Team Officer Jonathan Kiehn discussing Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. She also announced that June 22nd will be the date for the group’s planned Blockwatch Captains appreciation event.