By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The first West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting of the year drew one of its biggest recent turnouts, ~30 people. Here’s how it unfolded, from a briefing and Q/A with West Seattle’s police commander, to an insurance-industry expert’s inside information on car prowl/theft tactics:
CAPTAIN’S BRIEFING: Southwest Precinct Capt. Pierre Davis began Tuesday night’s meeting by thanking citizens for staying alert and calling 911. He mentioned the micro-community policing plans for 12 neighborhoods, while assuring people outside those areas that it doesn’t mean they get less policing resources.
As for the trends:
*Car prowls remain big, as does retail theft (shoplifting).” Also, “We’re still having street robberies,” but often there’s a relationship of some kind between robber and victim, “not so much individuals coming out there just to get (random) individuals.” He pointed out that numbers are available via the SPD Dashboard, saying it’s a “real-time” stat system.
Hot spots right now: High Point and North Delridge – “assaults, lots of gunfire, things of that nature, we’re on that as well … trying to determine what the true issues are, and sometimes they have nothing to do with West Seattle – these guys are migratory, they have cars … only thing we can do is make arrests, identify who we can identify.” He said the precinct is getting more resources, not just in house but from outside including SWAT teams, Gang Unit, etc.
Q & A: One attendee asked for more elaboration on High Point being a hot spot. “Mainly car prowls and thefts are what we’re dealing with right now,” said the captain. He mentioned the new Mobile Precinct – parked in the lot outside the meeting room. While the precinct has lost officers from the Bicycle Team to promotions and other moves, they’re hoping to get it back up to strength (six officers and a sergeant).
A resident from Puget Ridge voiced concerns about gunshots; Capt. Davis said they track all the ones reported in the area. “All of the shots fired that are in West Seattle are in our radar; we collect shell casings – it’s tough to do, to get fingerprints off shell casings, and send them to the crime lab … these individuals who are out there have guns and like to fire them off. Sometimes it’s fireworks, sometimes it’s not. We collect evidence when there’s evidence to collect.”
Another Puget Ridge resident said she had finally come to this meeting because she always wonders what happens in terms of followup on incidents, “we never hear what’s happening.”
And a Delridge-area resident who recently bought a home mentioned suspicious activity nearby and asked if he should just keep calling it in. “At one time there was a gunshot right outside my fence – I saw it happen.” Yes, keep calling it in, urged Capt. Davis.
Another attendee brought up the recent gunfire incidents – about four in recent months, that he could recall – as well as needles at the P-Patch (which were mentioned during the mayor’s Find It Fix It walk in October). He is worried about drug-dealing in the community and is concerned that Cottage Grove Commons (the DESC-operated “supportive housing” apartments at 5444 Delridge Way SW) is linked to it. “There are underlying social issues that are not being addressed – (DESC) leadership said it would not allow panhandling (and other behavior),” and also is concerned about jaywalking. “You should have done something and you did nothing and now my family is at risk.”
Capt. Davis said, “I understand the angst and the issues when DESC went in. … There are issues surrounding it, and we know that. My officers do spend a great amount of time there taking care of issues. A lot of them happen to be nuisance-type issues, I agree.”
“I don’t fault you guys for not doing your job,” the attendee said. “… I’ve never been afraid on Delridge, and now I’m afraid. I know all my officers … it’s not the community’s fault … it’s not my fault. I know you didn’t cause it … you say you’re not seeing any volume in crime, but you say there are ‘issues’.”
“There are a lot of issues surrounding the place because of the people who want to tend to hang around there,” Davis acknowledged. “Obviously it’s spilled out into your area.”
“There’ve been four shootings in six months!” the attendee said.
Those shootings have not been linked to DESC, said the captain. “But they’re a contributing factor,” insisted the resident. He reiterated that DESC isn’t carrying out its responsibilities, especially with the jaywalking. “I hear horns 10 times a day. These issues need to be resolved because they never should have occurred … I hope no one gets killed.” (It wasn’t mentioned, but a Cottage Grove Commons resident was killed crossing the street in 2014.)
Capt. Davis tried to assure the resident that outrage could lead to true change. “We will work on that and please keep the dialogue with us going.”
So what IS behind the gunfire? another attendee asked. Sometimes it’s affiliated with a property that might be considered a “safe haven” for people who “come in and want to caper,” people even who used to live in the area but don’t any more, suggested Capt. Davis. “I was a Gang Unit detective way back when, and I knew where people liked to congregate because it was a cool spot.”
One more question: What did police have to say about the RV parking lot coming to Highland Park? Capt. Davis said the police had heard “loud and clear” that communities didn’t want unauthorized RV camps bringing trash and other problems. “You can’t make being homeless a crime, so what can we do” for something in the interim? He suggested the RV lot would be run “like a Nickelsville [encampment] but with better management – I’m not sure what that management piece is going to look like, but the mayor has designated certain individuals to be in charge of that. The saga continues, you guys know about as much as we do so far …” (Editor’s note: We’ve had two followups since the mayor’s announcement Tuesday afternoon – here and here.)
Asked about the general rules regarding parking RVs on city streets, Capt. Davis said they’re collecting information and contacting people to tell them when they have to move their vehicles – “often around the block, and then the clock starts all over again.” But if it’s something more, like somebody “squatting on people’s lawns, that’s something we can take care of” more quickly.
“A lot of times, these vehicles don’t move because they’re inoperable. We can tow them, but that creates issues for the people living inside them.” So, Capt. Davis said, that’s what made way for what was announced earlier that day.
New Community Police Team Officer Clayton Powell urged people with a concern to file a complaint because that’s what they need in order to do something.
Asked about the CPT’s status, Capt. Davis mentioned he had Officer Powell, Officer John O’Neil, and one more member joining the CPT, “and that will bring us to five” (with Officers Jon Flores and Kevin McDaniel).
Capt. Davis in closing thanked attendees for turning out (about 30 by the time he was done).
INSURANCE INDUSTRY EXPERT: Special guest to talk about car-related crime tactics was Scott Wagner, a former state trooper among other things, who works for the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Among other things, he said he sets up bait cars “because I love getting the videos back from police departments. … everything we do on the bait-car stuff is free for local law enforcement.”
He talked about leaving some change in his car and having it stolen – and if somebody steals money of any amount from your car, he said, they’re buying meth. Car prowls “are frustrating; you feel violated.”
Then, on to car thefts. “Huge problem, costs a lot of money” – $6.4 billion annually. “They’re cloning vehicles, so they steal a whole bunch of cars, making fake VINs on the cars and selling one in each state because our DMVs don’t talk to each other.” The NICB, he said, is developing a system to change that.
Other stats –
*43 percent of stolen vehicles are never found
*Auto theft up in recent years
*Improved anti-theft technology and law enforcement efforts have had a significant impact on theft reduction
*Reducing auto theft investigations has an effect on increasing auto theft
He says the hands-free auto theft – somebody walks up with a backpack containing a device to get the car open – is a huge topic right now. “Yes, the device is real. We’re going to buy a whole bunch of them and give them to law enforcement to figure them out. … To catch a thief, you gotta know how to be a thief. … They are using what some are dubbing electronic scanner boxes that allow them to mimic the signal emitted by key fobs that open car doors with the click of a button.” He said people are pretending to be locksmiths – and they’re now buying these online.
He showed some of the devices being used to program keys, a “big mystery” apparently now unlocked, and said some were using them to get inside vehicles where somebody “left so much stuff,” so, as police also plead: Don’t leave stuff in your car!
So is there anything (else) you can do? asked one attendee, mentioning what she had heard about putting car keys in the fridge. (If you put them in the freezer, that might work, Wagner said later. He said he changed his own habits, no longer hanging the keys by his front door, within 50 feet of the car.)
Next, a list of most-stolen vehicles (newest list, from 2014):
1. 1994, 1996, 1997 Honda Accord
2. 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000 Honda Civic
3. 2004, 2005, 2006 Ford Pickup
4. 1999, 2003, 2004 Chevrolet Pickup
5. 1990, 1991 Toyota Camry
6. 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005 Dodge Pickup
7. 1993, 2000, 2003 Dodge Caravan
8. 2013 Nissan Altima
9. 1994, 1995 Acura Integra
10. 1996 Nissan Maxima
Why steal a car? Strip them down, sell the parts … If a $10K car was stripped down, the parts might go for $20K, sold online or elsewhere.
Back to more of the ways thieves get cars: He held up a Honda Accord ignition. “They get into (these) easy.” They’re fast to steal but first the thief has to bang on the column a bit so if you see that, report it – “that’s not normal.”
And then there’s an avoidable method: 7 percent of all vehicles reported stolen in 2014 had keys in them – 44,828 cars and trucks. That was up from 5.4 percent of all vehicles two years earlier.
He also circulated “shaved keys” around the room. They work on older cars – “it’s a shame, it’s so easy to do.”
If you’re buying a car: “We have a website – nicb.com – free VIN check, and it will tell you if it’s a previously flooded vehicle, if it’s a previously stolen vehicle – if you find one call me and we’ll locate where it’s at and I’ll call you.”
Fake IDs are a problem they’re dealing with – people using them to rent a vehicle and then never bringing it back. “We’re finding a lot of cars on containers being shipped out of the country – rental cars aren’t reported stolen for 30 days.”
Fraudulent financing is another problem, with thieves using stolen or fictitious identities to get a loan for a high-end car, often exporting it.
Other ways to prevent or deter auto theft:
*Close and lock all windows and doors when parked.
*Park in a garage, if possible, or in a well-lit areas.
*Don’t leave the area your vehicle is in while it’s running
*Equip your car with visible and audible theft prevention devices, such as an alarm system, and/or immobilizers, such as smart keys and fuel cut-off devices
*Install a tracking and recovery system to ensure easy traceability and quick recovery
*A brake lock, works by attaching to your brake pedal and locking behind it, making it impossible to suppress the brake until the device is removed.
A kill switch, works either as a standalone device or with an alarm system. When a thief tries to start the car without a key, the kill switch cuts off the fuel to the car or shuts off the electrical system, preventing the thief from taking the car anywhere. The kill switch is disengaged with a plastic key or an entry code, much like a car alarm.
The West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meets on third Tuesdays, 7 pm, Southwest Precinct meeting room, 2300 SW Webster.