(UPDATED FRIDAY AFTERNOON with reader photo of electronic sign trailer now in place by Duwamish Head)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Operations Lt. Ron Smith said there wasn’t much that could be done about most of the complaints. But he said the area had some good news nonetheless, as he opened with the overview: “Crimes against persons (in the Alki area) are down 21 percent.” That’s largely attributable to a reduction in domestic-violence cases, he said. Property crimes are down 11 percent – “this is one of the few neighborhoods that have a 31 percent reduction in car prowls.”
As he had told the Delridge District Council last night, he and precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis are leading the planning for security for the upcoming Seattle Pride events, and also are meeting with owners of LGBTQA bars. Today, the Southwest Precinct had 11 officers working; on Saturday, they will have that same level of staffing, with two of the officers assigned to bicycle patrol.
“We are again doing a summer emphasis – not to the numbers that you and I would like, but we have to be somewhat responsible in the deployment of overtime,” he added. In terms of hiring, the real impact from the process might be as far as two years away, he said, which drew a loud sigh from one attendee. “The mayor’s keeping his commitment in trying to hire more officers,” but they are having more of a challenge getting good applicants, he said.
“I think our concerns in Alki are quality-of-life issues,” most of all, he said. Then ACC vice president Randie Stone opened the floor. One resident said they had been sending e-mail to Southwest/South Precincts’ Crime Prevention Coordinator Mark Solomon (who was in attendance) and City Councilmember Lisa Herbold.
She listed two issues:
Motorcycle noise and “behavior that was borderline dangerous,” including weaving between vehicles in traffic, and riding toward the trail where people are walking. “We are appealing to the police to help us out.”
Lt. Smith said every neighborhood has complaints about motorcycles potentially violating the noise ordinance. “The specific rule with the noise disturbance for motorcycles is addressed as (prohibiting) modifying the exhaust system … which is difficult to prove.” He read from that section of city ordinances, and said 95 decibels is the legal limit. He said that’s similar to a jackhammer, and for police to measure it, they need a certain type of gauge. “Captain Davis and I are looking at getting a sound-measuring tool … re-calibrated” so it can be used. “I think when they wrote this law when Seattle was a nice, medium-sized town … I think it’s an outdated law, but that’s not something I can do anything about.” Even if it were a lower limit, he said, it would be “difficult to prove in court.”
What about a motorcycle on its rear wheel? Can an officer pursue that suspect and cite the rider? Lt. Smith cited what happened in the Highland Park pursuit of an armed robbery suspect – the crash that killed both the suspect and the driver he hit. Another attendee said an officer was in the area when a motorcyclist was driving recklessly, but did nothing more than flash lights at them. “I think he was just trying to stop the behavior,” suggested Lt. Smith, going on to explain that motorcycle-riding traffic officers generally work weekday hours and aren’t generally available during the hours of trouble in areas like Alki. Why is that? one attendee asked. Reply: Numerous types of commute-period enforcement are part of their responsibilities. When officers’ hours came up again, he again mentioned the staffing challenges, including that they don’t deploy bicycle officers if they don’t have enough overall assigned on a certain shift.
Regarding “boom boxes,” Lt. Smith said he agreed the sound can be irritating, but that doesn’t get close to the noise limits.
What if a group of citizens got a properly calibrated noise meter and also recorded video of violations, could anything be done with that? Lt. Smith said he would have to consult precinct city-attorney liaison Matt York, but “to be honest, a violation is (a misdemeanor).” The attendee said that itself might not be grounds for discouraging behavior, but it could be grounds for a civil lawsuit.
The question of recording video came up again later – in reference to groups of riders up on one wheel or otherwise riding reclessly; what if the video included license-plate numbers? Police could make contact, said Lt. Smith, but for enforcement, officers would have to observe the violation itself.
The Alki Avenue gridlock on sunny days came up, with a concern voiced about public-safety personnel being able to get through in case of emergency. “People tend to move aside for (emergency responses),” Lt. Smith said.
What about the anti-cruising law? It’s written too poorly to be enforced, Smith replied.
What about large gatherings of motorcycle riders or drivers? Don’t they need a permit? His counter: How can police prove it wasn’t a spontaneous event? One attendee suggested they could do that via social media. Next, someone said citizens might consider writing their own notices, saying they were watching and would be reporting to the police; according to Lt. Smith, it’s not legal for citizens to issue notices mentioning police.
Overall, he said, 11 other neighborhoods in West Seattle have higher crime rates, so he can’t divert resources here for the quality-of-life issues. He clarified that they do have “a request in” for help from Traffic, but “it’s a finite resource” and the unit “is stretched pretty thin right now. … and we have to prioritize. If there’s a life-safety issue vs. a noise complaint …” it’s clear what will be a priority.
Crime Prevention Coordinator Mark Solomon was invited to speak next. His accountabilities include working on prevention/safety issues such as Block Watch setup. “I consider myself a resource for you, I try to be as responsive as possible.” He said he had received some of the noise/traffic complaints and gotten them over to precinct leadership as fast as he could.
But, it was clear from Lt. Smith’s candor, that wasn’t a solution, as not much could be done. What about some sort of signage? an attendee asked. That’s an issue for SDOT, but it can be a pain to get, and there’s no guarantee the sign will be read, let alone heeded, he said, while saying it’s being worked on. One attendee thought a speed-radar sign might even encourage more speeding, with some trying to see how high they could influence the number to rise.
As for parking problems – they do have enforcement in the area. And one attendee verified that, saying that when they called to complain on Memorial Day weekend, “we had immediate response, and they had tow trucks to clear those people out.” That drew applause.
Overall, “(Alki) is probably the number one attraction in the city in summer months,” observed Lt. Smith. “Can we change that?” someone said.
“Has any community had success in hiring (supplementary security)?” asked VP Stone.
You need more than an additional person or two, Lt. Smith replied.
ACC president Tony Fragada asked if information about 911 call numbers and response times could be procured via public-disclosure requests that then could be shared with other departments such as Seattle Parks. Of course, was the reply. But Lt. Smith also offered to do a “crime-analysis report.”
One person said she’s not sure any of this was providing answers to their problems. Lt. Smith said he was doing his best. Even empty police cars could help, attendees said.
What about speed cameras? asked someone who had received a ticket from one in a school zone. Those are the primary areas where they’ve been installed.
What about the surveillance cameras installed years ago on Alki? They’ve long since been disabled, Lt. Smith said, after citizens’ concerns about ”
What, asked another attendee, if they did a protest – blocking the road, for example? That would be illegal, Lt. Smith warned.
But would it get attention? rippled voices from around the room.
Alert the media! said somebody else.
“Let the system work,” Lt. Smith suggested.
With the meeting one hour old by then, VP Stone asked aloud, what more could residents do?
The idea of a protest came up again. “That’s your First Amendment right,” acknowledged Lt. Smith. He suggested it might be better to take complaints to the top – Mayor Murray – since the buck stops with him. “That’s a stronger form of protest,” he suggested. “When it comes to political action, the fact that every vote means something to these politicians – that’s much better than a (demonstration).”
One person said they were concerned about the concept of calling 911 for something that didn’t seem to be a life-threatening emergency. That generated some discussion. Solomon said, “It doesn’t have to be for life-threatening emergencies solely. Use it.” As Lt. Smith stressed, use it if something is happening *now*. Solomon said the same thing – not just “crimes in progress,” but also, “suspicious behavior.” And be ready to tell a calltaker what makes you think that a crime is or has been committed or is going to be. He mentioned the sheet he has that addresses how to navigate the system.
Overall – “10 people calling once about something is going to get more attention than one person calling 10 times,” he said. Solomon also advised using the Customer Service line – 206-684-CITY.
Stone said that she heard in that, the importance of “critical mass” – everyone has to be “the squeaky wheel.”
One unusual question arose then: Is there any way for the community to connect directly to the people they are complaining about – the motorcycle groups, for example?
“Maybe something so simple as a sign in front of our houses?” Stone wondered aloud, “maybe a (message) such as, ‘We live here too … think safety’ … making everyone aware, we live here and are concerned.” She recalled campaigns in the past that achieved results.
If you choose to engage directly, be kind and positive, it was suggested.
“I apologize if I didn’t give you the answers you want to hear – I’m not going to lie to you. Here’s the commitment I make to you – I have contacted the Traffic unit and SDOT; we’ll have a higher presence of officers in cars (when) possible (on Alki),” though life-safety calls will always take presence. “I’ll try to get a full-size reader board – that might not be for a long period of time, but I think it’ll have some impact.” He says he has a portable speed-reading board that he could place on his car, and come out and park and get some work done, “for the visibility factor.” He asked where the best spots for that signage would be. Duwamish Head was the first suggestion; just off the bridge, was another one.
NIGHT OUT: This year’s anti-crime neighborhood-block-party night is August 2nd, Solomon reminded everyone, and said that the registration form has been changed – requesting less personal information. You can register your block party and get more information right now by going here.
ADDED FRIDAY AFTERNOON: Thanks to Mark for the photo – the promised sign trailer already is in place by Duwamish Head: