By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Not so many property-crime reports in West Seattle Crime Watch lately, and the report from Southwest Precinct Operations Lt. Ron Smith (photo left) at this week’s WS Crime Prevention Council offered one reason why: The criminals just haven’t been as busy.
Might be this month’s almost-record-setting rain, Lt. Smith acknowledged, but whatever the case, burglaries in the week preceding Tuesday’s meeting were down to 6 from the average 9 – “we’d like to get to zero,” he noted, mentioning that the SW Anti-Crime Team is “going after people related to a theft ring, on top of burglary, stolen property, narcotics … there will be some search warrants served.” (Whether that’s related to the 32nd/Juneau bust reported here Thursday night, we’re still trying to find out.)
Auto-theft cases in the preceding week were down as well, Lt. Smith reported – 5, compared to the average 8; non-residential burglaries average 2, and there had been one.
Community concerns voiced immediately after the crime-trends briefing included local parks – questions about the gate at Hamilton Viewpoint Park in North Admiral not being locked at night, and about unlocked bathrooms at Roxhill Park late at night. Lt. Smith and Community Police Team Officer Jon Flores promised to check into both.
The meeting’s featured guests were from the Seattle Police recruiting team – talking about how SPD finds, screens, trains, and hires candidates.
Hiring is a critical issue for the department, they explained, since there are about 200 members of the force – nearly 1 in 6 – who are eligible for retirement or almost there. And the time between application and hiring, for qualified candidates, is up to 10 months, followed by more than 4 months in the academy, and five more months of training, resulting in about a year and a half between application and hiring. So they are scouring the community for potential new hires, and have a website – seattlepolicejobs.com.
Officers Sonya Fry and Andre Sinn (photo right) were accompanied by Detective Kevin Nelson, whose specialty is background-checking candidates. This year, they’re hoping to hire 85 new officers, and up to 75 each of the next two years, but that’s not as easy as simply putting out the call. Even before a candidate gets to the academy, there are written, video, and physical-agility tests; an oral board; extensive background checks; polygraph; psychological and physical examinations. To be a sworn officer, you have to be a US citizen, and have a driver’s license. There are also criteria such as, if you have a history of marijuana use, you can’t have used it for the past year (used to be three years, the officers said), nor more than 25 times in 10 years.
For the test this past February, 1,300 people applied; 500 showed up; 200 failed written and video testing, so it was down to 300 going into the physical-agility test. Overall, one new officer results from each 20 or so applicants.
Officers Fry and Sinn go everywhere they can to recruit; even the visit to the Crime Prevention Council was in hopes the word will get out about this possible career, and their upcoming calendar includes going to the Northwest Women’s Show. (They were asked how many applicants are female and said they didn’t have that statistic, but did say women comprise 14 percent of the current force.)
No age limit, by the way, they told the WSCPC attendees: “We have some joining after they retire from the military, starting a second career in law enforcement.” The minimum age is 20 1/2, so that you’ll be over 21 by the time of potential hiring.
If you’re interested in a specialty, such as CSI, that’s not going to happen right from the start – everyone begins as a patrol officer. After three years, you can go to “detective school” – that rank, by the way, is the same level as patrol officer. (We didn’t realize this until testimony in the murder trial we’re covering, in which a detective testified about being supervised by a sergeant.)
What are the rules about hair? asked one woman in attendance. “Has to be off your collar,” replied Officer Fry. She talked about her fitness regime and how it’s important to “stay in shape so I can run after the 18-year-olds who are running away from me.” Lots of CrossFit training, she noted, saying later that she’s been on the force nine years (Officer Sinn and Det. Nelson are both 15-year veterans).
Can you ask to be assigned to the Southwest Precinct? asked another attendee.
Lt. Smith answered that one: “It’s a hard precinct to get assigned to; the officers that work here love this community – (as opposed to other areas) you guys wave at us with all your fingers!” Though he’s way up the ladder now, he said he enjoyed old-time police work – “walking the beat, talking to people.” (Every summer we’ve tabled at West Seattle Summer Fest, he’s supervised the on-scene officers, which meant a LOT of talking to people, including those who show up at the Information Booth with an urgent problem such as a lost child.)
If recent publicity related to the Department of Justice supervision of SPD has made you wonder about a preponderance of questionable people on the force, Det. Nelson plaintively tried to counter that, saying, “I wish people knew how much we are able to screen people who shouldn’t be out there,” and making it clear the process does catch a lot of unsuitable candidates.
TESTING DATES THIS YEAR: For entry-level candidates, July 12th and October 4th; for “lateral” candidates – who are or have been part of other law-enforcement departments – September 19th-22nd.
NEXT WSCPC MEETING: The council meets the third Tuesday of each month, and president Richard Miller tells WSB that he’s confirmed guests from the SPD Crisis Intervention team for the next meeting, April 15th (7 pm, SW Precinct).