By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
About 50 people filled the Southwest Precinct’s public-meeting room tonight, as the West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network heard from – and talked with – District 1 City Councilmember Lisa Herbold for the first time.
One big issue is one that she and other councilmembers will discuss tomorrow morning – Seattle Police staffing – also a hot topic at WSBWCN two months ago.
The meeting also included SW Precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis‘s usual briefing; more on what he said, after our recap of Councilmember Herbold’s appearance.
“About the public-safety work I’ve been doing this year,” she listed matters including her request for further breakdown of 911-response-time data – particularly the two sectors in the SW Precinct, drilling down further to the “beats, so we can see if there are any conclusions we can draw.” Among other factors she wants to look at is response/distance correlation. 9.4 minutes and 10.9 minutes were the average response times for the two sectors, she said.
She said she’s been working with the “nuisance crime” problem in South Park, and also is “excited to dig into the (SPD staffing) study … I still believe that it is a correct belief that we are understaffed as a department.”
“We would all agree with that!” interjected an attendee.
Herbold continued, “I was disappointed that we could not reach an agreement to make some gains while we waited for the staffing report,” which will be reviewed tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 9:30 am at City Hall by the Gender Equity, Safe Communities, and New Americans Committee, chaired by at-large-but-West Seattle-residing Councilmember Lorena González.
She added, “I’m particularly interested in meeting the goal in having half the time the department spends being proactive work, not just responsive work – right now, it’s about 60 percent responding, 40 percent more proactive. …The report also says we want to have Priority 1 calls responded within 7 minutes,” plus more hours devoted to patrol and 911 response time. “And they make a specific callout for recommending burglary and theft staffing from 20 to 34 – we all know all over the city that property crimes are on the rise.”
Herbold also voiced support for dedicated bicycle patrols – “right now they’re not typically dedicated to precincts” (Southwest Precinct had one for a very short time, until it lost some personnel to promotions and transfers). Staffing “gets to be a little tricky … council has tried under previous police chiefs to require that certain staffing models be applied, but there’s language in the city charter that gives staffing decisions to the police chief … that makes it difficult for the council … to mandate certain types of staffing in certain areas. I’m hopeful that under this new police chief … (they’ll reach) common expectations of what we’d like to see in all our precincts.”
With that, she opened the floor to Q/A/comments.
The first person to speak veered from the public-safety theme, thanking her for voting against the $1.4 million Pronto bike-share buyout. Applause erupted. Herbold acknowledged, “Even though I lost the vote” – she and at-large Councilmember Tim Burgess were the only two “no” votes – “people thank me for that vote everywhere I go – I feel (I was) representing the majority of the public.” She said that it was hard to see the money spent for that when there are other priorities.
Including, the original speaker pointed out, more police.
Second person to speak to Herbold had praise for the Find It Fix It app – and using it for reporting graffiti or illegal dumping – but said she’s found a gap in reporting problems with guardrails. Herbold says she’d be happy to check into that. The committee she chairs – Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts – oversees Seattle Public Utilities (which has a leading role in dealing with graffiti vandalism).
Third person to speak went back to the SPD-staffing report and said he was concerned it utilized 2013 data, which seemed particularly out of date. “Is there any sort of contingency plan to get more staffing for this summer – I feel like we’re really in for it this summer. … when are we going to get more people?”
Replied Herbold, “This is cold comfort since we’re behind but we are at an all-time high for hiring right now” because of the new positions to which the mayor committed at the start of his term. She says she’ll be asking in tomorrow morning’s briefing how they’re dealing with current staffing levels, and about the possibly inconsistent information the council’s been getting.
Capt. Davis noted at that point, when the question of total precinct staffing came up, that the SW Precinct has 80+ – and that’s everyone, not just patrol officers.
What’s happening at the training academy? Operations Lt. Ron Smith says SPD is limited to six or eight recruits per class – but they’re trying to get commitments for all-SPD classes. Herbold said they looked at establishing their own training academy and that didn’t look like something they could do. Lt. Smith said even if you enter the academy right now, it’ll be close to a year before you hit the streets. Capt. Davis said there’s a shortage of good candidates, and they’re even recruiting out of state.
Fourth person to speak asked how they find out whether cases of suspected gunshots turned out to have been actual shots, or not. (We ended up talking a bit in the subsequent discussion about how difficult it is to get that sort of followup information; police-report narratives are hard to obtain, for a variety of reasons.) Herbold said she’s talking to Councilmember González about how more information can be made available – since now that we have districts, district councilmembers would naturally want that information too.
On behalf of the residents who need most to know what has or hasn’t happened: “We’re scared,” said the woman who asked the question.
Another person brought the gunshot question up again later. Capt. Davis said the shots-fired incidents are generally related to specific people and cross-city clashes, as had been mentioned at another meeting we covered recently. They’re also analyzing whatever casings they find to see if they can be matched to multiple incidents.
Lt. Smith added that three times a week – Monday, Wednesday, Friday – he and Capt. Davis check in with an online meeting of a multidepartmental task force and they talk about these incidents. They’re not unique to Seattle, he pointed out. Capt. Davis said they’d dealt with a similar situation back in the ’90s. “It’s just a matter of time before we start putting all this together,” he said. He also mentioned the Real-Time Crime Center, first mentioned back in October.
Another attendee wondered about lights/sirens and people not pulling over with the 35th SW rechannelization – has that affected emergency responses? Not that they have noticed so far, said police.
A few questions later, 35th SW came up again – and concerns about traffic diverting onto side streets, bringing more ruts and potholes. The same attendee also was concerned about the damage construction equipment is doing to roads. The question at the heart of it all: Is the rechannelization doing what it was meant to do? Herbold pointed out that, toward the “Vision Zero” goal of fewer crash casualties, SDOT has said crashes are down (here’s what we published recently about an early progress report on Roxbury), but she has asked for a report on other effects – such as how long it takes for people to get out of their driveways on side streets, etc.
Next person wanted to know about marijuana-law changes. “Are grow houses now legal?” she asked.
“If they are not licensed, they aren’t legal,” said Herbold, “but the city has created some priorities around enforcement” – depending on whether there are code violations, an “association with crime,” etc.
Other matters that surfaced included reestoring neighborhood-based services like the opportunity to deal with traffic tickets without going downtown.
And then more warm words for Herbold – it’s great to have representation in the district, an attendee said along with thanking WSBWCN leaders Karen Berge and Deb Greer for inviting her to the meeting.
A late-arrival asked about the Highland Park “RV safe lot” status (here’s what we reported last weekend), two months after the mayor had said it would be open within one month. Herbold mused, “The fact we’re not getting a firm answer out of (the mayor’s office) might mean they’re re-evaluating.”
Wrapping up, Herbold says she’d be willing to come back now and then, and the WSBWCN attendees expressed support for that.
BRIEFING FROM THE CAPTAIN: In his traditional meeting-opening briefing, precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis warned that longer days tend to mean more light and more criminal activity – but also more visibility for criminals to be spotted by alert neighbors. “Reporting to 911 is key to everything we do here,” he reminded everyone.
Crime categories that are spiking include robbery – “people just getting robbed for their goods” (as in, held up – if your residence is broken into, that’s burglary, not robbery, unless someone breaks in while you’re there and steals from you face to face). He urged everyone to “have situational awareness while you’re out.”
You’ll see the Mobile Precinct out and about, especially at trouble spots, such as “a situation in South Park that we’re dealing with,” he said, noting that SPD got inside “one of the main hubs” there, serving a warrant last week.
He reminded people that they can access the “microcommunity policing plans” and crime data via the SPD website.
One attendee asked about recidivism – what can they do when an offender gets out of jail/prison, how can they keep watch? Capt. Davis mentioned that while an offender might get out, they might be on probation so if they offend again, they have more time hanging over them. “It drives us crazy, drives our community members crazy,” but just keep watch and if you see something awry, report it. He stressed community partnership with police.
Operations Lt. Smith said that dealing with recidivism, and communicating more about repeated offenders, has improved because of the SeaStat meetings at which department leaders gather every other week. Also: “We’re starting to see an increase in amount of time served” – not as much as they’d like to see, but at least it’s an increase.
A burglary victim who found some of her stolen property in a White Center pawn shop brought her case up at that point. She didn’t know there was a Pawn Shop Unit until Capt. Davis had mentioned it in part of his briefing. He said “we have our case detectives look at the paperwork – and then we’ll have our unit have a nice discussion with the pawn shop – it’s hard to prove complicity (between the shop and the criminal).” Capt. Davis invited the victim to give him her name so he can “forward (the case) upstairs.” He mentioned that some time back, SPD was very good at getting the pawn-shop/stolen-property problem under control. He also mentioned the importance of borrowing the engraving items available at the precinct to make sure that you can match your stolen property if it’s found.
Lt. Smith said that pawn shops try to be honest and so they are indeed supposed to freeze any item that’s suspected to be stolen property. He said local police have helped retrieve a lot of property from pawn shops and he too promised to look into the victim’s case.
Speaking of White Center, an attendee asked about staffing and how that would change if it were annexed (which, as reported again recently, wouldn’t happen before 2019, and not without approval of voters in WC and the rest of the remaining unincorporated North Highline area). Capt. Davis said it would require more staffing, and the later staffing-report discussion with Councilmember Herbold had some added context because of that.
NEIGHBORHOOD HARASSMENT: A local resident spoke at the start of the meeting, saying she’s a victim of repeated harassment and is working with the Community Police Team on it. She urged anyone who is a victim of harassment to be sure to report it to police.
The West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meets fourth Tuesdays most months, 6:30 pm (arrive early and socialize!) at the Southwest Precinct (2300 SW Webster).