(11/30/12 photo by WSB’s Patrick Sand)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
One rainy night last November, we reported on a shooting at a South Delridge bus stop.
While it was over fast, and the victim survived his leg wounds, it apparently has reverberated ever since, according to what Seattle Police Gang Unit representatives told the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council last night.
Not only did an SPD Gang Unit detective attend, so did the lieutenant who is in charge of the Robbery and Fugitives Units as well as the Gang Unit, and a wide-ranging conversation ensued.
There was a relatively sizable crowd on hand, too, at least 30 people ringing the Southwest Precinct meeting room, and many brought questions including an increasingly common one – what to do when you think you hear gunshots?
As is usual for the WSCPC’s monthly meetings, Operations Lt. Pierre Davis started with an update on crime trends. He had little to report, saying that property crime is still “doing quite well” – as in, on the low side of average rates – and reminding those in attendance that residents’ help is vital, with 911 calls and Block Watches. He mentioned a “disturbing trend in youth activities” but said they know who they are looking for and hope to make arrests soon. (That seemed to dovetail with what the Gang Unit guests discussed later in the meeting.)
After a few minutes, again as per the meeting’s usual format, Lt. Davis invited questions.
The first came from a resident who said two people in her area had doors kicked in by burglars, between 40th/41st and Dawson/Hudson. (Same incidents noted in our Crime Watch roundup last night.) She noticed a lot of graffiti in the area “and a lot of people hanging out in the area,” so they’re asking for more patrols in the area.
Second question asked about how Predictive Policing, newly deployed in SPD, is being used, and how that relates to the fact that some communities under-report crime. Lt. Davis replied that it’s “just a tool” and does not prevent officers from being deployed in other areas where things are happening. Speaking of tools, he also was asked what’s happening with the data and feedback gathered in the recent round of community outreach via the “Safe Communities” initiative; Lt. Davis said he’s just heard that decisions resulting from community feedback will be incorporated into next year’s budget.
In response to another question, Lt. Davis said there are “walking beat” officers in West Seattle – deployed at various times on various areas of the peninsula.
Dorsol Plants, who is public-safety rep from the North Delridge Neighborhood Council, asked about how homeless encampments are being dealt with. Lt. Davis said that right now, most of the emphasis on dealing with encampments is focused on “Nickelsville”; no specific incidents were mentioned.
A Delridge-area resident said she had heard gunfire multiple times in her neighborhood and she’s wondering what police are doing to curb that, and why doesn’t she hear helicopters? Lt. Davis acknowledged there’s been “an upswing” in gunfire incidents – and said there’s been “a nexus” relating to recent incidents. He mentioned the Charlestown/Avalon robbery/shooting incident – you’ll recall that police did not confirm for days that it was indeed an attempted robbery – and said that other incidents sometimes don’t turn out to be what they originally seem to be. The resident then said she meant the “full clip of shots” that she believes she’s heard; she referred to an incident at 2:30 am Saturday. She just wanted to make sure it was on police radar, and Lt. Davis said it was.
What about the 20th/Cloverdale house that’s been repeatedly shot at? “There’s been a letter developed for individuals in that house saying they’re close to being a nuisance house and will be dealt with,” Lt. Davis said.
The evening’s special guests got back around to that specific case before ong.
Lt. Dan Whelan – lieutenant for gang, robbery, fugitive unit – joined Detective Clayton Agate at the top of the meeting. He explained that the crimes handled by the units he supervises are “all violent crimes” – 32 detectives in the unit, 4 sergeants. 8 detectives work in robbery – on all cases except juveniles, which are the responsibility of the precincts, “in hopes they’ll work better with the suspects’ families.” Two detectives in the robbery unit work on the Puget Sound Robbery Task Force with the FBi.
The fugitive unit has two detectives, plus a third assigned to the U.S. Marshals’ Pacific NW Task Force.
14 detectives and three sergeants work on the gang unit – about two-thirds of them (9 detectives) at night, six assigned part-time to the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force. Lt. Whelan talked about the interface with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and how they work with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to see where it’s most appropriate to prosecute criminals such as felons in possession of firearms “to make sure that person gets as much (prison) time as possible.”
Gang Unit detectives like Agate wear uniforms, unlike other detectives in SPD, because “we want them to be distinctive.” And, he said, “we want them to know every gang member in the city of Seattle.” And that might make them think twice, when gang members see the police who know them. Not everyone who might claim to be a gang member is one, though, he cautioned.
So who’s in gangs? 14-18 year olds, “living a lifestyle where at their home it’s so bad that it’s a viable option for them to join a criminal gang … it might even be an improvement over what they have at home,” said Lt. Whelan. “They’re frightened and insecure individuals, and very antisocial, and don’t have much compunction in hurting people, and their violence is pretty stupid and pretty senseless.”
He noted repeatedly during the meeting that thieves – gang or otherwise – are targeting people with “Apple products” – iPhones, iPods – and earbuds are dead giveaways. “These kids … usually ride Metro routes, and if they see somebody with earbuds, they’re an instant target,” though they also evaluate targets for vulnerability. (Later, he again repeated his advice against using earbuds in public, comparing citizen-vs.-criminal to something like deer vs. predators – saying the former survive because they are always on alert: “Of all the nature shows I’ve seen on TV, I’ve never seen a deer with earbuds.”)
So, the big question – is there a gang problem here? According to Lt. Whelan: “We do have a situation in West Seattle.” With that, he handed the spotlight over to Det. Agate to talk about the 20th/Cloverdale situation, while cautioning he couldn’t share a lot.
He says it traces back to the 9200 block of Delridge bus-stop shooting back in November, in which one person was shot in the leg, someone else grazed. “That’s when we first came to know some of the individuals involved. … Then it was quiet for a few months, until March.” The house in question has been targeted four times, March 9th-April 2nd, Det. Agate said. And police believe, he said, that there is some association between the November shooting victim and someone with ties to that house, even though everyone they’ve talked to there denies gang involvement. He did not get more specific – they had warned that they would not be able to, without jeopardizing the ongoing investigation.
That’s when the topic of “what to do when you hear gunfire” resurfaced. DO call, the detective stressed. A call about gunfire is “high urgency” for police; Community Police Team Officer Jon Kiehn elaborated that the number of calls is also an indicator of a higher urgency level – so DO call, even if you’re certain somebody else did. Referring to the question earlier in the meeting, Officer Kiehn said there were no confirmed gunfire calls on Saturday – meaning officers responded but found no evidence of gunfire, no casings, no property damage – so it would be logged as a “disturbance.”
When you call, Det. Agate said, try to be as specific as you can regarding the number of shots you think you heard, and the direction from which they were heard. And yes, he said, even though many calls turn out to be fireworks, they would rather get called about them than not be called and later “find someone bleeding in an alley.”
The recent activity seems to be tied to a gang whose name we won’t publish in its entirety, but the initials are VL. You might have seen its name in graffiti vandalism around south West Seattle; be sure to report that graffiti, the police said.
“You have very active juveniles who associate with gangs in West Seattle, and it’s getting more active.”
What exactly are they fighting over? asked one attendee.
“That’s one of the key points we’re trying to find out,” said Det. Agate, noting that there was a fight a few days before the bus stop shooting, between some VL associates and associates of another area gang. That’s one theory; drug sales is another theory. The attendee then said, “I’ve been here five years and I’ve seen it get dramatically worse in the past six months,” and wondered why.
“I can tell you that one of the victims of the shooting” – which they caught up with later – “was not from the area. … Whether that shows us that the gang members are coming from out of the area and trying to stake claim to the Delridge corridor, I can’t say.”
Will the legalization of marijuana change the way gangs work? Det. Agate was asked. He said he’s seen an increase in home-invasion robberies related to marijuana grows, since dispensaries started opening up. The lieutenant added that he’s not expecting legalization to solve the problems inherent in drug-related crime – buying it legally, “with a huge tax,” may not be everyone’s choice, so he believes an underground market will remain. Growers are arming themselves, the lieutenant added, and that can make the situation more dangerous; he believes growers and sellers are targets because “they have something (the robbers) want.”
He noted then that the gang problem has evolved: When he first got here in 1980, “there were no gangs,” said the lieutenant – but then older gang members headed up here from California, “easy pickings to run prostitutes, sling dope … they had some connections in California.” Then in the late ’80s, crack cocaine led to an increase here and in other cities. There were three main gangs back then “who would shoot it out with each other,” he said. Usually not fatally. But “things have changed dramatically.” And now the problem has headed from here into the smaller South King County cities (Tukwila to Kent); he mentioned the Kent car-related shooting in summer of 2011. He said they’ve been investigating “Hispanic gangs” since then and hinted at a possible “grand-slam home run,” multi-agency, breakthrough sometime soon.
Investigators around the region are in close communication electronically, said the lieutenant – “we are exchanging information with all the local jurisdictions; it’s very, very productive.”
The lieutenant’s parting words involved blaming much of the violence on “boys between the ages of 14-26 … Why? Testosterone. (They’re) aggressive … you don’t stop and think, you just go out and do stuff.” Violent youth don’t have “a mom and a dad grabbing us by the hair, pulling us back and telling us no. A lot of them don’t have it. … That’s who we’re dealing with. These kids we see out here, very poor circumstances. They’re not going away. We’re going to have to find a solution.”
(Not that crime is limited to the young; he also recapped the tale of the two bank robbers in their ’60s whose spree, including a West Seattle heist, started when both got out of prison and got back to their heroin habit; they recently were sentenced, as reported here.)
When it comes to self-protection – use common sense. “The Seattle Police Department can’t protect you 24/7, we do our best … but if you’re going to learn to live in an urban environment, you’re going to have to learn to live in an urban environment … use direct deposit .. a locking mailbox …” And keep reporting what you see and hear: “We could solve most of the shootings in the city of Seattle within 24 hours if every citizen came forward with the information, but they don’t … there is an active ‘don’t snitch’ ethic that is killing us, killing them, and hurting you guys … we need people to talk. There’s no penalty (for) calling.”
The West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meets third Tuesdays, 7 pm, at the SW Precinct.