(West Seattle Block Watch Captains’ Network founders speak to the new WRAH council)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The second meeting of the new Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council drew more than 20 people, from a retired police officer voicing concerns about city politics, to educators from local schools, to representatives of community groups including the West Seattle Block Watch Captains’ Network and West Seattle Crime Prevention Council.
Crime prevention was the spotlight topic during the Wednesday night meeting at Southwest Library, with the Seattle Police crime-prevention coordinator for the Southwest and South Precincts, Mark Solomon, first up, after around-the-room introductions and words of greeting from facilitator Mat McBride, chair of the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council.
Solomon explained that while Block Watch formation is in his purview, he doesn’t get the credit for organizing neighbors – neighbors organize themselves, and call him in for help and guidance.
He opened the floor to questions almost immediately. One early question: How do you get people involved in community councils and other groups? Often, he acknowledged, it takes a hot issue to bring people out, and the challenge is to keep them involved even after it’s resolved. Support your neighbors, he said: “You’re not the only one affected,” for example, when there’s a nuisance house on the block, and “the more people you have working together, the more impact as a community that you have.” It “doesn’t mean you have to patrol with baseball bats and flashlights,” he said – communication is an important tool. Even something simple like “the power of hello” when you see people on the street – neighbors or not; even if there’s someone unfamiliar in your neighborhood, you’re letting them know you see them.
Another question: Much of the area in this new council’s jurisdiction borders unincorporated King County, and that means criminals may cross borders, complicating enforcement issues. Solomon said Seattle Police and King County Sheriff’s Office coooperate fairly well, so that’s not an issue, but one tip: When you are calling from a cell phone, “let them know where you are” because you might wind up referred at first to the wrong law-enforcement agency.
Also: Graffiti/tagging – what are signs that it’s gang-related versus simply vandalism? Most of it is not gang-related, said Solomon. (Editor’s note: Those interested in the topic might be interested in a presentation we videotaped at the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council public-safety forum one year ago.) In most cases, the vandals are just trying to get their names out, he said. Some that you see on garages, fences, etc., might be gang-related, but hard to tell – best thing to do is report it, and be sure to provide a detailed description, photograph it, and then paint it out as soon as possible. Another attendee mentioned being told that he couldn’t report graffiti vandalism on someone else’s property. Solomon said, “Report it anyway.” And he advised what we have heard from other police reps – you can call 911 and say “it’s not an emergency, but I want to make a report,” and they will get you to an operator. (Or, if you call the non-emergency line, he said, hit 2 at the first prompt, 8 at the second.)
Shortly thereafter, it was noted that people seem loathe to call 911, but shouldn’t be. “It’s OK to call us,” Solomon agreed. “We want you to call us. If you don’t call us, we don’t know.” But he also acknowledged that calling 911 can be daunting because call-takers want to get down to the facts – and may cut you off, even seem rude. “That’s because of how many calls they get in, they need to determine the information, how many officers they need to send.” Don’t be put off by the way they question you – they need to do that to get their job done and help you.
He also mentioned the NewHolly double homicide earlier in the week, recounting that someone heard gunshots in the middle of the night but didn’t call. Hours later, a police officer noticed broken glass, went up to the car, and found the victims. If someone had called sooner, maybe they would have caught or seen the killer, or been able to help the victims, Solomon said.
The art of calling 911 was then mentioned: Get a description, get the information they’ll ask about. Call as often as you need to – if you call four times a week, they might see a pattern. Solomon added that it’s “more valuable if ten people call once (about a problem) than if one person calls 10 times … then we don’t have a cranky neighbor, we have a neighborhood problem.”
Solomon also noted that while people seem to ask a lot about mail theft at meetings he attends, he is not seeing a corresponding amount of reports when he goes back to the precinct and checks. So, he reiterated, REPORT EVERYTHING. Report mail theft to SPD as well as to the postmaster.
There was also a discussion about watching out for your neighbors. Yes, you can let police know you’ll be on vacation and ask them to come by every so often – but letting your neighbors know is essential, too.
Is a well-lit neighborhood less vulnerable to car prowls? Solomon’s reply – yes, lighting can make a difference for many reasons (including helping police find house numbers), but there are also subtleties such as training a motion-detector light on your car, so that if someone walks up, it’ll go on, and they will have cause to suspect they’ll be seen.
If you want to organize a Block Watch or need other crime-prevention advice information – contact Solomon (find his e-mail address and phone number here).
He was followed by WSBWCN co-founders Deb Greer and Karen Berge, who explained how they realized the importance of communication between Block Watches, and how they try to encourage communication and cooperation between Block Watches. Their meetings are on fourth Tuesdays, 6:30 pm, at the precinct; next one is in three weeks, on Tuesday, March 26th. They also welcome topic suggestions.
Summarizing what the group had heard over the previous hour-plus, McBride noted that the total population of the neighborhoods participating is 18,000 – equal to the entire city of Mountlake Terrace, for example. And a neighborhood council has power, including access to city grants that he says are waiting.
LEADERSHIP: Councils can’t just be run by one or two people – they’ll die. But with the library closing at 8 pm sharp, and the meeting needing to be done by 7:50, which was minutes away by the time this finally came up, there was no time to carry that discussion further; McBride said they’d carry that over till next time. “Go home, think about it think about people i this community that have been kind of rudderless, they want to engage, they don’t know how.” Next month, he exhorted, “Bring some friends.”
ROXHILL PLAYGROUND/SKATEPARK: New projected opening date is now March 20th (or so), according to McBride, who said he had talked earlier in the day with Seattle Parks project manager Kelly Goold. (Here’s our most recent report on the finishing touches at the playground.)
ARBOR HEIGHTS OPEN HOUSES FOR WESTSIDE SCHOOL @ HILLCREST PRESBYTERIAN: AH resident JoDean Edelheit reminded everyone that the open houses with Westside School (WSB sponsor) seeking to meet its prospective new neighbors, if its purchase of Hillcrest Presbyterian goes through, are coming up this weekend and next week – 10 am this Saturday; details are in our story from last week.
NEXT MONTH’S MEETING – TRANSPORTATION: Neighborhood traffic liaison Jim Curtin is scheduled to be at next month’s meeting, which will return to the first Tuesday of the month … so be at the library 6:30 pm April 2nd. Here’s the Facebook event page; here’s the council’s Facebook group page.