By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Gunfire was the first thing our area’s top law enforcer brought up as tonight’s West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting began.
CRIME TRENDS: Southwest Precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis opened the meeting with his crime-trends briefing, as usual. “As of lately, there’s been a lot of shots-fired incidents, there’s reasons behind it … it is alarming,” and community members “are quite tired, and I don’t blame them one bit.”
Once shots are reported, “we do take them very seriously, our officers go out and investigate … if there’s physical evidence that can be confiscated and taken to a lab, we do that .. there’s a whole unit that does that to see if there’s a nexus between different areas of the city (and other cities). … There’s shots-fired evidence we can link to various crimes throughout the area.” According to Capt. Davis, gangs and drugs are what’s most often involved “and we’re quickly putting together the pieces as to who’s who.”
He mentioned one particular trouble spot – a mile-plus of 16th SW, from the 6900 through 9000 block. South Park (which also is served by the SW Precinct) is being plagued by gunfire incidents, too, and so, he said, patrols have been stepped up, even including SWAT officers and the Anti-Crime Team. But they can’t patrol around the clock, he warned: “Obviously these individuals are smart enough to know if you’re shooting when police are around, you’re probably going to get caught … I wish I had enough officers to have out there 24/7 but that’s not the case.”
A resident of 21st SW in Puget Ridge spoke up at this point to say she had heard gunshots for three nights.
Capt. Davis’s response: “We know of a group of individuals in that area … they’re under investigation right now … hopefully we’ll have enough probable cause for a permanent fix.” In South Park, too, he said, they’re focused on a “gang house” for which they are seeking a “permanent fix,” including getting the City Attorney’s Office involved for “cease and desist” letters. He warns that’s a lengthy process, but it could get the problem-causing residents to move on.
Overall crime numbers “are not bad,” but the biggest ongoing category is still a major problem: “Right now car prowls are really kicking our tails … we’ve pinpointed where a lot of issues are …” One hotspot straddles the county line south of Westwood, he said: “We’re suffering a lot there.” Davis said they believe a small number of criminals might be responsible for a large number of incidents: “It’s up to us to get those people behind bars.” Last year, they employed “strategies” to identify and arrest frequent offenders, and the number of incidents plummeted.
From there, he moved on to the issue of encampments and RV/vehicle campers, saying police have dismantled “a half dozen encampments” recently and also are working with “trailers and motor homes … we had those pre-staged for the safe lot (in Highland Park) that did not materialize, so we offered those individuals the assistance the city was offering at time, and we kept tabs on who those individuals are … and we know exactly where they are now.” He says the Community Police Team has warned that if campers are involved in criminal activity, they will be caught and their motor homes will be towed, “and we have towed a lot of them.” (The issue of RVs came up again later in the meeting.)
One more issue: If you see suspected gang-related graffiti vandalism, notify police – they like to take a photo – and then paint it out. Painting it out sooner rather than later “restricts their ability to call it their turf,” operations Lt. Ron Smith mentioned. If you use the Find It Fix It app, added Community Police Team Officer Jon Flores, you can upload a photo and police will be able to see it.
Wrapping up his briefing: “It’s getting warmer, we know it’s going to get busy … call 911 when things happen,” said Capt. Davis. “Sometimes it’s not as speedy as we’d like, but it’s the system we have right now.”
One attendee at that point said he had called 911 because someone had threatened him yesterday but, he said, the dispatcher told him to call the non-emergency number because there wasn’t an officer available. He said that he was at the RapidRide bus stop on California just north of Fauntleroy in Morgan Junction and someone intoxicated threatened to throw something at him.
Capt. Davis acknowledged there are times when there might not be an officer available. The attendee then said that police appeared to be at a nearby coffee shop, but that the dispatcher told him they had to send King County Transit Police because he was at a bus stop.
Lt. Smith said that based on what the attendee was saying, “that should have been a priority call.” He said that the SPD communications staff currently is working out of a low-tech situation because of remodeling that’s under way. He and Capt. Davis both apologized on behalf of the department. The man said he had had similar problems in the past, and also that they finally told them he could wait for an officer, but he couldn’t wait because he had to catch a bus to ride downtown to his job. Capt. Davis promised to call the 911 supervisor and “listen to the tape myself.”
SECOND COMMUNITY CONCERN: A resident of 21st SW on Puget Ridge brought a petition from her neighbors asking for enforcement of the 20 mph speed limit signs on the new Delridge-Highland Park Greenway running through her neighborhood, particularly between Genesee and Dawson.
“When people were speeding (before the bumps) we didn’t hear them – now with the speed bumps we hear them. We’d like to see a visible active presence by Seattle Police officers patroling and issuing speeding tickets. … Every third or fourth car will slow down, but the others don’t,” including school buses, she said. Councilmember Lisa Herbold is looking into a stoplight and/or radar signs in the area, she added. Capt. Davis promised to talk with the Traffic Division about sending officers for enforcement.
THIRD COMMUNITY CONCERN: A North Delridge resident concerned about issues related to DESC’s Cottage Grove Commons complex returned for followup after coming to a WSCPC meeting three months ago. He is still concerned about the same issues, he said. Things improved afterward, for a while, but then after about six weeks, public drinking and jaywalking increased again – “from three horns a day, it’s back up to nine or ten.” He spoke of a day when he saw one person drinking outside the building, and came back that way after going to the grocery store and saw four. Building management is supposed to be monitoring that situation, he said. He was told to contact them and let them know. He said he’s done that, but has been told they have no one to send outside and deal with it. So, he wound up calling police, “and what is a social-service issue has become a police issue.” He made it clear he didn’t have a quibble with police.
Lt. Smith said that Community Police Team officers have been working on “an issue” with the building, and “are just going to have keep on it.” The resident said that it’s been two years since the building opened and it’s frustrating that the problems DESC said wouldn’t happen, have happened. He thinks there should be a community event to bring up the problems and have them addressed. “I would want to know who could have the conversation that could facilitate those results.” Capt. Davis suggested maybe City Councilmember Lisa Herbold could. CPT Officer Flores noted at one point that more than a few residents with physical disabilities live there, and walking across the street can be a challenge. “Maybe DESC should say that person is not a good fit for the building,” suggested the community member. Officer Flores thought perhaps SDOT should be brought into the conversation, and pointed out that at this point, finding a solution would be good “because that building isn’t going anywhere.” He said he and his partner will be there tomorrow talking with building management.
PARKING ENFORCEMENT: This was tonight’s featured topic, though only one major concern was brought up – RV camping on streets. An attendee said one had been parked by her house in the Alki area for eight weeks and was causing issues including blocking sightlines and using their trash cans; at one point, they reported it, the vehicle was stickered – and then moved a block away.
“They’re so large they don’t even fit into what’s defined as a parking space … the vagrant population is on the rise … they’re out and about, the freaks come out at night, and it’s the time of year when people come out to enjoy the weather.” Lt. Smith explained that the area about which the attendee is complaining has mixed commercial/residential zoning, and so they are talking to SDOT about it. “That zoning has a lot of impact on us” and one of their Community Police Team officers is focused on the issue overall. A multi-precinct meeting is coming up later this month to focus on it.
The resident said it seemed that the problem here worsened when north-end neighborhoods “banded together” to try to get RVs moved out of their area. RV campers do move around, Capt. Davis acknowledged. And the decision not to have a West Seattle “safe lot” had put a crimp in the push for a solution.
In order to do more than ticket an RV, they have to be able to prove a “criminal enterprise” is linked to an RV and/or its residents, Lt. Smith noted. He also mentioned that they’re working with campers to make sure there’s a way for them to dispose of their trash, and you’ll notice the distinctive green bags. After a little more discussion of RVs, he reiterated that encampments also remain an issue and there are some jurisdictional issues there when it’s state or county land. “It’s a long-term thing we’re going to have to deal with.”
Last major question of the meeting: Will the precinct have a bike squad again? Capt. Davis said he’s working on having two bicycle officers in each of his three squads, and, as he’s explained before, mentioned that promotions broke up the previous team. They’ve identified five officers so far and are looking for a sixth one. Capt. Davis also said that he’s also big on walking patrols and also an “09 car,” an “aggressive” set of officers not tied to 911 response. This is a new citywide plan, he said. “There’s also a plainclothes aspect that will be put out there too,” but again, it’s staffing-dependent.
Next meeting’s spotlight topic (7 pm May 17th) will be code compliance – which encompasses nuisance houses, junk storage, and similar issues.