By Randall Hauk
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Opioid addiction continues to be the root cause behind much of West Seattle’s property crime problems, Captain Pierre Davis explained at last night’s meeting of the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council.
Opening the meeting, the Southwest Precinct commander updated community leaders and interested residents on the West Seattle/South Park police force’s progress on a number of crime-related issues. Later in the meeting, SPD’s citywide Traffic Enforcement Section commander was the special guest.
First, trends and issues: Davis says car prowls are down 22 percent from last year over the first four months of 2017, but that there continues to be a lot of auto thefts occurring in West Seattle neighborhoods (neighborhood-crime statistics are available via the SPD Crime Dashboard). While police continue to track cases and make a significant number of arrests, Davis says that reacting to crimes after the fact will have minimal impact on the issue.
“As the chief says, we will never arrest our way out of problems like this,” said Davis.
The captain reiterated advice about assuring valuables are not left in vehicles to help prevent becoming a victim, especially with the warmer weather of summer months approaching, when Davis says activity tends to rise.
The displacement of homeless encampments in other parts of the city was another topic discussed by Davis. A number of recreational vehicles and individuals who had been encamped elsewhere have recently been noticed as moving into West Seattle (we reported twice last week on the new, unauthorized RV camp off 2nd SW between West Marginal Way and Highland Park Way SW).
SW Precinct Operations Lieutenant Ron Smith says that the law requiring delivery of a 72-hour notice before impounding a vehicle as “abandoned” was likely written to primarily target passenger vehicles and not as a tool for managing the arrival of those living out of their recreational vehicles parked along neighborhood streets. Davis added that those living in RVs ¨know the game quite well,” moving their vehicle a short distance after receiving notice and then moving back to the same spot shortly thereafter. With police tied to the 72-hour rule, they are left with few ways to otherwise address the issue. An RV leaking fluid onto the street may be impounded due to the potential environmental impact. Meanwhile, a vehicle that might be deemed unsafe for driving might be of greater public danger while moving.
Smith noted that service calls tend to “skyrocket” with the arrival of the new encampments and that the precinct has already noted an increase since the new influx. Residents are encouraged to report issues with encampments via the ¨Find-it, Fix-it¨ mobile application or website or the city complaint line at 206-684-CITY (2489).
¨It’s an expensive problem and a tough issue to swallow,¨ says Capt. Davis. ¨But once crime occurs, that is where we step in hot and heavy.¨
One attendee inquired about a recent increase in gun activity in the area. Davis responded by saying there had been ¨emphasis patrols since the spate of shootings began,¨ including work by gang units.
SPECIAL GUEST – CAPTAIN ERIC SANO:
The commander of SPD’s Traffic Section had barely been introduced before being asked where there is a quota on traffic citations.
¨Absolutely not,” replied Capt. Sano.
Before discussing his role with the Traffic Section, Sano mentioned that he used to oversee the major crimes task force and wanted to emphasize the importance of Davis’s advice about not leaving valuables in motor vehicles.
Sano’s team covers all of Seattle with 180 officers: 120 parking-enforcement personnel and supervisors and 60 “sworn” (and therefore armed) officers. The sworn officers are split evenly between motorcycle and vehicle patrols. The section is aided by photo enforcement, particularly near school zones and other high-priority areas. High-risk locations are identified through data analysis and targeted for enforcement, though Sano says they also sometimes will respond directly to complaints and requests of the community.
Motorcyclists along Alki and speeders on Delridge draw the most complaints from West Seattle, says Sano, addign that SW Roxbury Street, 35th Avenue SW, violators in the bus lane on the West Seattle Bridge, and commercial trucks coming from Harbor Island all generate a significant volume of phone calls.
In addition to daily enforcement, Sano’s team assists in managing traffic around special events, such as sporting events, concerts, parades, and marches. They also are on-call to deal with the arrival of high-profile visitors, such as former President Jimmy Carter, who arrived in the city earlier Tuesday with wife Rosalynn Carter. Additionally, the sudden need for assistance on traffic-impacting events that do not go through the permitting process can further strain his team’s resources.
Sano stressed that his parking-enforcement personnel deal only with the parking-citation portion of RVs and abandoned cars, but not individuals living in them. He encourages residents to report abandoned vehicles via the Find-it, Fix-it app.
A question about reporting pedestrian issues led to discussion of Mayor Ed Murray´s Vision Zero, aimed at bringing an end to fatalities and serious injuries on Seattle streets. Sano acknowledged that fatalities are currently up and that enforcement alone may bring short-term results, but will not be the entire solution, as problem intersections must be studied for best permanent fixes.
Another attendee brought up a specific problem area, noting that many drivers disregard stop signs along 17th Avenue SW in Highland Park, as reported earlier in the week. The resident said he noticed that even when officers stopped someone for rolling through the stop sign, it appeared they were let off with warnings rather than receiving a citation that might better serve as a needed deterrent.
Sano responded by saying that in cases where there is a change in traffic control, the initial goal is to educate drivers and change behaviors, which is when warnings tend to be used, but that enforcement via citations is otherwise the expectation.
In discussing driver education and efforts at changing behaviors, Sano mentioned the coming laws regarding the use of mobile devices by vehicle operators. Though he did not yet have all the details on the law that was signed by Governor Jay Inslee earlier on Tuesday, Sano said Seattle Police would use a “media blitz” to assure drivers are aware of the new restriction on holding their phone while driving before it goes into effect.
The West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meets third Tuesdays most months, 7 pm at the Southwest Precinct. Our WSCPC coverage, going back to 2008, is archived here, newest to oldest.