By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
A sunny Friday could bring another summer-size crowd to Alki Beach tonight. So you might be interested to know what Seattle Police told the Alki Community Council last night about what they’re up to.
The meeting started with a briefing, including crime stats, from Southwest Precinct Operations Lt. Ron Smith. He said assaults are up slightly from this time last year, with this year’s incidents including the shooting near Whale Tail Park back on April 30th. Residential burglaries are up – 11 in the area through this time last year, 15 this year. But property crimes in the Alki area are down 15 percent – with relatively few car prowls compared to some other areas of West Seattle and the rest of the city. And overall, he said, crime is down 11 percent.
For Alki Beach concerns in general, according to Lt. Smith, they started an “emphasis” a couple weeks ago – 4 officers working extra hours walking or riding bicycles on Friday/Saturday nights.
“We’re planning to extend it if it looks like there’s an increased amount of alcohol abuse. … We failed the community when it comes to Whale Tail Park, (trouble) usually starts there a little later in the year, but the weather was good … we WILl be focusing on (that area).”
Staffing in general, he said, is a challenge. He says SPD has the same amount of officers as when he started 30+ years ago “but five times more calls” – and a lot more paperwork. They need more overtime funding before they can add extra help on Sunday night, he said.
On the converse, he said, Thursday nights, they have 12 officers working in West Seattle, but most of the time right now, a lot of training affects overall deployment. He said they’re also “begging and borrowing from Traffic” to beef up forces here – so you’ll see motorcycle officers enforcing speeding – plus Parking Enforcement will beef up its patrols here as soon as next week. Staffing is an issue citywide: “Every sector of the city is screaming for more cops (but) we have a finite amount of resources,” he noted. .
Constellation Park-area residents south of Alki Point have been concerned about people loitering in the area; one meeting attendee was asked how things are over there, and she said neighbors are keeping watch. Lt. Smith mentioned one “transient” in that area who had “accepted resources” offered to him; that segued into a discussion of RV campers in the Harbor Avenue area, east of Alki. Lt. Smith said some RVs had been towed from West Seattle, and added that local police are concerned about “the decision to push people out of The Jungle … It probably won’t affect (this neighborhood), but we don’t know.”
The perennial topic of when to call 911 and when not to call 911 Later, a resident near Me-Kwa-Mooks Park said she had “given up on calling” when she’s awakened by loud music. Lt. Smith pointed her to the Community Police Team for help with that. She also mentioned the “drag racing” problem, and that she is aware it’s not just a Beach Drive problem. Lt. Smith said that one problem with racing enforcement is that it’s usually at night and the Traffic Unit doesn’t usually work at night – but they might be able to get someone out on special assignment.
Are you seeing an uptick in gang activity? he was asked. A slight increase in tagging, yes, he said, but not necessarily in other activity. He said it’s a matter in some cases of a difference between real gang members and “wanna-bes.” He concluded, “It’s not out of control, but it’s (a matter of concern).”
Next area of concern: Dogs on the beach. Even if an officer is in the area, they might issue warnings, not tickets, one person complained. Lt. Smith promised to bring it up in roll calls, acknowledging it’s a “quality of life” issue.
Another question involved who to ask about problems such as road visibility and who to ask about putting a mirror on a utility pole. That segued into some information-sharing about the Find It, Fix It app.
Last but not least, someone brought up a person is apparently living in a sailboat off the 1200 block of Alki. “Is that legal? … It’s been going on for about two weeks.” Lt. Smith said there’s a distance at which it might become a Coast Guard issue rather than a Harbor Patrol issue.
MICRO-COMMUNITY POLICING PLAN: Following the briefing and Q&A with Lt. Smith, Jennifer Burbridge, SW Precinct research analyst, talked with attendees about the Alki micro-community policing plan. She’s a Seattle University grad student who’s been working with SPD as part of a grant from the Seattle Police Foundation. She said they’re evaluating the project and that this would serve as something of a focus group.
Few if any in the room (about two dozen) were familiar with the micro-community policing plan – a project that’s now a year old – or even the concept, so the discussion started with some information about it and the concept. She also explained what she and other researchers have been doing at the precincts around the city. The SW Precinct has 12 micro-community policing plan, out of (updated number) 58 around the city. Explaining all that handled the first two questions of nine on a one-sheet she handed out.
Question 3 was, how safe do you feel in the neighborhood? What’s your #1 concern about crime/public safety in your neighborhood and surrounding area? What other public-safety concerns do you have in your neighborhood?
One person said hearing that burglaries are up makes her feel less safe. Another said that the increase in density with no increase in police presence is a problem. Another person brought up “they’re building these buildings with no parking” (although Alki has a requirement of one and a half per unit) and concerns related to that. It also was noted that park policies – say, a smoking ban – send people out of the park into nearby neighborhoods to engage in those activities.
One person said they feel safe when out walking on trails and sidewalks but not while trying to cross the street – “pedestrian safety” overall, and also the signage where the Alki trail splits off between people on foot and people on wheels, as well as user behavior – riders not letting people know when they approach. At that point, Burbridge clarified that she was here to listen to all sorts of concerns, including issues that aren’t necessarily crimes. Speeding came up at that point – fast, unsafe driving (with speed humps not available for Alki SW because it’s an arterial) – as well as a perceived lack of respect for local residents by visitors who see the entire area as a “public beach.” Stories of people trying to clean off in water features in front of buildings came up. One person noted that the shortage of restrooms along the beach seemed to lead to that.
Next problem – illegal fireworks and illegal fires. An illegal fire pit in Me-Kwa-Mooks caused so much concern, neighbors thought “the whole greenbelt would go up” last summer, a neighbor said. Drive-by fireworks use also causes consternation. Another attendee suggested that city funding is being misused if there’s money for decorative crosswalks in part of the city but not for safety-enhancing crosswalks in the Alki/Admiral area.
Trash is also a major problem, said another attendee. One resident said the Parks Department employee who used to “patrol” Alki “retired at the start of May and nobody took his place.” She also said the Parks Department removed half the trash cans on Alki in early April because someone thought there was no need for as many trash cans. (We’ll be following up on this next week.)
Next, question #5 – “What’s your experience been with Seattle Police” in addressing problems and response when they call. The first respondent said she would like to see more in the area. Then the discussion veered off onto traffic problems on specific streets, at spots including the pedestrian light at 59th/Admiral. Back to police – yes, attendees said, they like having SPD participation in meetings like this, such as the briefing and Q&A with Lt. Smith. Someone else mentioned Crime Prevention Coordinator Mark Solomon visiting a neighborhood meeting and offering safety/crime-prevention tips.
Burbridge asked about the mobile precinct and those on hand said they have a positive impression. Another attendee then observed that while most seemed to be having positive interaction, the problem remains that there aren’t enough officers, and that if they’re called about certain issues, they might be busy with something more urgent, so “we’re not going to see them for the majority of things we call them for.”
Attendees were eager to keep talking, and time ran out before Burbridge could get through everything in her questionnaire.
The Alki Community Council meets on third Thursdays, 7 pm, at Alki UCC.