(From left, Lt. Pierre Davis; WSCPC president Richard Miller)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
While the Seattle Police Department‘s in-the-works surveillance cameras have drawn lots of attention lately (WSB coverage archive here), another technological tool that’s about to be deployed came to light at this week’s West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting: New data-crunching technology to be used for “predictive policing” – anticipating crime before it happens, to make sure resources are deployed in the right places.
Southwest Precinct Operations Lt. Pierre Davis mentioned the new system almost in passing while answering questions about various neighborhood trouble spots. He described it as something that will enable officers on the street to get “cheat sheets” as crime trends are crunched on a daily basis; other departments around the country use it and in some areas have experienced a significant reduction in crime.
Lt. Davis told WSB after the meeting that the system is expected to be in use around March 24. It’s known as PredPol for short – that’s the name he used, and that’s even the company’s handle on Twitter – but the company that sells the technology is named Predictive Policing. It originated with the Los Angeles Police Department, according to its website, which describes how it works.
The city website includes a brief mention in a news release about last week’s update on the SPD 20/20 project, with which Lt. Davis has been closely involved.
Ahead, what else he mentioned to the council, as well as other toplines from the meeting:
Lt. Davis acknowledged a spike in burglaries in late January/early February, attributing it in large part to some previous offenders getting out of jail. He then mentioned the recent arrest that’s been mentioned here twice – the day it happened, and in the most recent WSBeat roundup – the arrest of a man Lt. Davis said confessed to 10 more burglaries after being gotten caught while allegedly trying to break into a home at 48th and Findlay. His arrest (though it’s since been reported he was not jailed that day) was followed by a “dramatic” drop in the burglary rate, noted Lt. Davis: “Seeing how this individual is under wraps and it’s been fairly quiet …” He said the suspect had been prolific in the William sector (western West Seattle), according to Lt. Davis, apparently because of a heroin habit. “Hopefully we can keep him behind bars for a long, long time” – if charged/convicted. (We are still working to get a more-detailed followup on the case’s status.)
He was asked about the recent street robberies, particularly the one on 28th; he mentioned there had been arrests in connection with some cases – that same night, there were at least two others – but couldn’t attribute any to that case in particular. He issued a general warning that many street robbers are going after smartphones, iPhones in particular.
Another question had to do with the prominently parked, rundown RVs that tend to spark neighborhood suspicions; he said that issue had been escalated to the mayor’s office and even came up at a recent SPD command-staff meeting – they’re working on how to handle it while being careful about the fact that some might simply be inhabited by otherwise-homeless people.
Lt. Davis was asked to put the current West Seattle crime rate in perspective as compared to the rest of the city. A little better than some areas, he replied, without specifics. (You can look up the data here.) And better than the past – but he urged everyone to remain watchful, maintain strong Block Watches, etc.
Since one of the expected guests at the meeting – a Seattle Parks manager – was a no-show, the Q/A with Lt. Davis continued. One attendee asked why the same people keep committing crimes – who’s responsible for them being back on the streets? Is it the courts, the prosecutors, or? they asked, exclaiming: “It’s frustrating!”
Lt. Davis acknowledged that, and said it’s an “age-old problem – how do we keep these guys behind bars?”
“Are the prosecutors doing their job?” Yes, they are. But they may not have hard and fast evidence. Or, maybe it’s a juvenile and they get a lighter sentence.
“The wheels of justice, they don’t turn like a sports car, they turn like a Flintstone mobile,” observed one attendee.
Have patience, advised Lt. Davis.
VICTIM SUPPORT TEAM: The rest of the meeting was devoted to a presentation on the SPD Domestic Violence Victim Support Team, by Sarah Sorensen, a West Seattleite.
It’s a program that trains and deploys volunteers to help victims in a situation that is more common than you might realize – in 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available, Sorensen said, SPD responded to almost 50,000 domestic-violence calls. Over the decade preceding that year, in our state alone, domestic violence claimed 359 lives – including 32 children.
“Why doesn’t s/he leave?” people always ask, Sorensen observed. It takes someone 7 times to leave a situation for good, she explained. The victim may not have the income, might not have anywhere else to leave, might be in the country illegally and be afraid to reach out for help.
Half of those who were killed, were killed after they tried to leave.
And this isn’t just a problem for the families involved – it may be a problem for the community, the neighbors, those involved with the suspects, etc.
They provide food and diapers and items like a cell phone – “one of the ways an abuser isolates the victim is by breaking their cell phone.”
The abuser may deprive the victim of food and water, which keeps them from being able to think clearly through the next steps they need to take to protect themselves and their child/ren.
Volunteers also are trained how to assess their own safety as well as the scene where they respond to help victims – with crisis intervention that will get them through the next few days. “They’ll establish a relationship and get (the victim) connected to long-term resources,” Sorensen explained.
She says she has been doing this for six years and has never had a volunteer injured while assisting with domestic-violence intervention.
A free training session is coming up. And while they hope everyone they train goes on to volunteer, even if you never pull a shift, they have educated you, your community – and you’ve learned a lot about what police do, as well.
Volunteers make a difference in ways beyond connecting victims to services – since a victim might feel “re-victimized” by normal police behavior – as officers establish that a scene is safe and has stabilized, for example – so volunteers are liaisons in those crisis situations.
Noting that a meeting attendee was holding a dog, Sorensen pointed out that they also have programs to help people in crisis with their pets – since that even might be a reason for them not to leave, if their abuser taunts them by saying shelters don’t take pets.
They have two open houses coming up, she said. 3/7 and 4/13, no obligation. “Anyone is welcome to come and join us there.” Get your questions answered, and meet actual volunteers, to ask them directly what their work is like. Even only working weekends, these volunteers help almost 500 families a year.
PUBLIC SAFETY WALK: WSCPC president Richard Miller noted that a public-safety walk is set for 7 pm June 4th in Lincoln Park – mark your calendar.
The West Seattle Crime Prevention Council usually meets on third Tuesdays, 7 pm, at the precinct (Delridge/Webster).