By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The GameStop robbery was happening just as this month’s West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting was wrapping up. So keep in mind that Southwest Precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis was speaking about trends before that – almost presciently. His briefing preceded the night’s guest speaker, Metro’s chief of Transit Police.
LOCAL CRIME TRENDS: Busy month since last meeting. Headline – the arrest of a suspect in the serial arsons, which were Topic 1 at the previous WSCPC meeting. Robberies are up – “the individuals are like zombies, they activate themselves and they’re committing everything under the sun, car prowls, robberies …” In particular, he mentioned, car prowls are up “and I know (West Seattleites) are sick of it.” He reiterated the top advice – don’t leave ANYTHING in your vehicle. Nothing at all. “I just can’t stress enough – take (your stuff) with you.” Every time something is found inside a car, that encourages thieves to come back. Alki, High Point, North Admiral, and Pigeon Point are the hottest spots for car prowls right now: “The numbers right now aren’t horrific, but they’re horrific enough that people are being affected.” Parks get hit hard, too.
The briefing segued quickly into attendee Q/A: First one was a question about the neighborhood crime stats on the SPD website, wondering why they all use different scales, meaning that if you compare areas, one might look worse than it really is. Capt. Davis said they’re aware of that and hoping to find a way to work with it.
Next Q brought up the West Seattle Crime Watch saga of someone who put their stuff in the trunk and was prowled while shopping at Westwood Target. Capt. Davis acknowledged that some car prowlers do just break in on spec, basically. “It is really, really tough right now and about all we can do is something like an operation we did earlier this year – we identified more than 100 individuals that we deal with over and over again, and arrested a lot of the individuals who are prolific in this area. When we (did that) we saw every category of crime drop. .. But as soon as they get out of jail, we see that activity spike up again.” Now, he said, they’re working with prosecutors and judges to try to urge them to keep the criminals behind bars – and for longer. “That’s what we’re after right now – sometimes it takes time, but it’s well worth it.”
Asked about car thefts, he talked about use of the license-plate reader to detect dropped-off stolen cars.
Two people who identified themselves as first-time WSCPC meeting-goers said that they had just moved to West Seattle a few weeks ago and were trying to figure out how to stay safe and wondered if there was any reason that repeat offenders’ mugshots weren’t made available.
Officers have “a spreadsheet,” Capt. Davis said. But they can’t just go public and say “we’re looking for these (people) because they’ve done it before.” He spoke about low-key community networking. And he said they’ll have an emphasis patrol for the holiday season with bicycle patrol, foot beats, and officers in cars, “especially in Westwood Village, where we find a lot of concerns are.” (And indeed, as we mentioned, it was barely an hour later that the Game Stop store was held up.)
From the King County Sheriff’s Office, King County Metro Transit Police Chief Dave Jutilla was the special guest – with him, senior transit planner Dale Cummings. They talked about some of the area trouble spots – saying they’d improved safety at northbound 15th SW @ Roxbury – they met at the bus stop with an officer, with facilities crews that do cleaning and pressure washing, that they talked with a Walgreens manager who has a “bad CPTED [Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design] problem” – drug dealers used an alcove at the store to relieve themselves, then the bus stop. Walgreens agreed to pressure-wash the alcove more often and to look at the lights on their building; Metro took the end walls off the bus stop – “people doing things they don’t want you to see are (therefore) less likely to stay in the area.” New storefront deputy Bill Kennamer, then with the transit police, did an emphasis patrol, too. This ws about 8 months ago, he said, and loitering was greatly reduced, drug dealers moved elsewhere, sanitation issues improved
They also worked at the Delridge/Barton bus stop as a result of a public meeting, he noted, and met on site with SDOT’s Urban forestry as well as SPD. He said now it’s open enough that neighbors can see from across the street.
Regarding what bus drivers are empowered to do, Chief Jutilla mentioned they have several ways to call for emergency help. If it’s not an emergency, they can write up a report at the end of their shift.
Back to shelters with trouble – eastbound Roxbury at 26th drew a request recently, Cummings said, so Transit Police worked to discourage loiterers. Then they removed the bench, which led to a lot of complaints that there was no place for seniors to sit. But if you have a bus stop full of people drinking, he said, it sort of defeats the purpose of having a shelter. And he mentioned the layover project on the south side of Barton at 29th, which was the subject of a walking tour almost two years ago. “We’ve since put together a lighting project proposal that was prioritized for funding and it should be built this coming year.” (As reported here recently, that’s a delay from the original plan.)
Also, Westwood at northbound 26th/Barton, after complaints about darkness so they added solar lighting.
Got a concern/complaint? 206-553-3000 is the Metro customer service line, said Chief Jutilla (who ran the 911 center before moving to transit, he said).
What’s the process for getting a shelter removed? The Metro team was told about the stop at Delridge and Brandon, where activity is happening near a preschool, including open drug dealing, on the southbound side. They were also asked about trash cans that keep disappearing; the maintenance group is the one that decides between 10-gallon or 35-gallon cans, they explain, but if it disappears, please report it. Some places the trash can will be removed for a long period of time if it gets a lot of home trash or construction trash, Cummings said.
SPD and the Transit Police share jurisdiction for bus stops, by the way.
Someone brought up a westbound bus stop at California/Admiral where “there’s always passed-out guys” so the kids that use the bus stop are always standing outside it.
After Cummings left for another commitment, Jutilla gave some context about his system and the county, and how the Metro Transit Police provide policing services for Metro buses and the Sound Transit buses that Metro runs – more than 1,400 individual buses in the fleet. The system includes the country’s largest vanpool system too. 400,000 people got on a Metro bus today, he said. 120 million annually. 9th biggest bus system in the country. 8,000 bus stops around the county.
2003 was when the County Council decided to go from an off-duty police model to fullfledged police for transit system. Besides leadership, he said, they have 39 uniformed patrol people, and the force includes the bicycle team “The Bees” (Bicycle Emphasis Enforcement Squad), the detective team … this is where he mentioned an E Line (not in West Seattle) problem involving a flasher, so they planned to use video and distribute bulletins to track him down. There’s even a “federally funded small anti-terrorism team,” he said, plus a springer-spaniel bomb dog that “looks for one of 19,000 smells.” He said the transit force was up to 68 people in 2008 – before the recession. They hope to recover those positions someday, since ridership keeps rising – they’re expecting this year’s ridership to total 124 million.
Their priorities include sexual misconduct crimes, crimes against persons, property crimes (like phone thefts), misdemeanor quality of life issues, and fare evasion. Fewer than half the buses – 600 – have camera systems. He asked those in attendance to guess the number one problem operators write reports about. Answer … people who fall asleep on the bus, followed by problems including verbal hassles, fare evasion, reckless behavior passenger-related harassment. Deputies write up to 200 tickets a month. They also can order someone to be suspended off the bus system for as little as 14 days and up to 1 year if they commit a crime against a person.
But he insisted the crime/problem rates were low – “.10 in a million bus boardings that something bad will happen, about 23 disturbances per million boardings.” Driving a bus is a tough problem – drivers find themselves being “peacekeepers,” but they tell them not to put themselves in harm’s way, and he said they haven’t had a “serious operator assault” since two summers ago. They’ve reduced the rate of assaults on drivers by half.
The West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meets third Tuesdays, 7 pm, at the Southwest Precinct. Its website has no admin right now so watch for meeting announcements here.