By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“A lot of this is policy” – and not policy made by Seattle Police.
That was a caveat tonight from Southwest Precinct commander Capt. Joe Kessler, when asked about the “Nickelsville” encampment’s status, following Mayor McGinn‘s new directive for more patrols (WSB Monday report), in the wake of the encampment declaring itself “overrun” with “meth dealers and violent, barred former campers” (WSB Sunday report).
Capt. Kessler was at the West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meeting primarily for a get-acquainted event; the group was created in the time between his unprecedented two tours of duty at one precinct, something he says no SPD commander has done before. But in light of our coverage the past few days, WSBWCN co-founder Deb Greer asked him what he could tell the group.
First, he noted that the encampment was founded at the same 7116 West Marginal Way SW site during his first year as precinct commander.
As for now – he says behind-the-scenes city leadership strategizing is going on as well as police action. He said he “was in a meeting with the mayor’s senior staff and (Deputy) Chief (Nick) Metz” on Monday afternoon, and that his second-in-command Lt. Pierre Davis had met with the Southwest/South Precincts’ city-attorney liaison Melissa Chin, and that “we’re working through this process right now,” though the “process,” he said, “isn’t necessarily right now within (police’s) bailiwick.”
What is, Kessler said, “is to enforce the laws and (promote) safety.” He refuted allegations that police had not adequately responded to calls from the encampment: “Every call that’s been made, from everyone (there), has been responded to by the Southwest Precinct.”
But again, he said, major decisions on next steps won’t be made at the precinct level: “We’re in active discussions right now with the mayor’s office and city attorney’s office to figure out where they want to go … our role will be as part of the team, but we’re not the decisionmakers.”
Officers are “patrolling around” the encampment, Capt. Kessler confirmed, adding that “the mayor is accurate in saying we are making it one of our priority spots to make sure we are having a visible presence as much as we can – but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to patrol the (other) areas where we have emerging crime problems.”
To the Nickelsville Central Committee open letter last weekend accusing police of thwarting camp attempts at self-policing by not supporting “eviction” decisions, as reported in our Sunday story: “That is public property; it’s owned by the City of Seattle. There is no legal ability for anyone who is staying there – they are not landlords, so there is no legal ability for their (people) or for my officers to go there and actually evict somebody from public property, it’s not the same as if someone is at your house – so whatever rules are in place (at the encampment) are not legal rules. We still operate under the rule of law and we still have all the things that officers are well versed in their legal responsibilities and what they can and can’t do. … In all our discussions with the mayor and the city attorney’s office, everyone is on the same page.”
Another trouble spot came up at tonight’s meeting – 15th and Holden in Highland Park. That report is coming up later. Meantime, Nickelsville is scheduled to be discussed during Wednesday night’s Highland Park Action Committee meeting (7 pm, HP Improvement Club, 12th/Holden); HPAC has previously told the city that other communities should take turns hosting the encampment, and also has surveyed community members for their thoughts.