Alki shooting followup: Captain discusses police presence plan

As discussion intensified in the comment section following our as-it-happened coverage of Friday night’s Alki shooting (original report here, today’s first followup here) – which sent a 19-year-old to the hospital, with the shooter/s still at large – many people asked about police presence at the beach — is it less than before; whether it is or not, should there be more? So we put in a request to talk with the man who’s in charge of West Seattle police, the commander of the Southwest Precinct, Captain Joe Kessler. First thing this morning, he sat down with WSB for more than an hour. Important to note, you will see him at some upcoming community meetings, including the Alki Community Council on May 21, so as we’ve said before, you will want to be there to directly voice any concerns you have. But as for some answers right now – here’s our story about the conversation with Capt. Kessler this morning:

(Friday night photos, this one and above left, by David Hutchinson)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Just one hour after a 19-year-old was shot at Alki last Friday night, WSB commenter “At the Beachasked, “Shouldn’t there have been at least more (of) a police presence on a sunny Friday evening down at Alki?”

That’s one of the questions Capt. Joe Kessler, now in his second year as commander of the police precinct responsible for West Seattle and South Park, wanted to answer – even before we asked it. (Yes, he reads WSB comments too.) Right off the top in our conversation at the precinct this morning, he addressed a specific question about police presence, as asked by Cathy at 8:55 Friday night: “Remember that huge police RV, command center type vehicle which always seemed to be parked right across from Alki Auto? Haven’t seen it for a long time.”

According to Capt. Kessler, that’s because the “RV” — officially, a “mobile precinct” — got to be so old, it started “falling apart” and is no longer in service; it was used less last year than in years past, in fact, he says. The Southwest Precinct used to share it with another precinct, and is now without an official share of a “mobile precinct,” though if desperately needed, one could be borrowed from elsewhere. The captain says, however, it’s not what he considers the best use of police resources.

“Because of their equipment, the mobile precincts require personnel specially trained to drive and operate them. It takes at least an hour each way to go get them, set them up, and drive them here. And once you take one out, you can’t leave them – so if you have two officers with one of them (at Alki or elsewhere), they have to stay inside it … You can have a presence with a vehicle (like that), but I prefer a presence with officers, to get the most bang for the buck.”

While driving Alki on Sunday night, two nights after the shooting, we looked for police presence, and saw at least two units in the heart of the beach area — one driving Alki Ave by the boardwalk, and another parked close to the shooting scene, along the east side of Pepperdock, where we took this photo:

Will officers be routinely parked along Alki, we asked? Answer: Not always. One thing he notes about Alki: The traffic (human and auto) is inconsistent and unpredictable: “Some sunny days, there’s minimal traffic, other days, there’s so much, you can barely get down the street.”

He is frank about one situation: While city leaders have resolutely NOT cut police staffing – they are continuing to hire for open positions, and there are no officer layoffs (though the department is losing 10 civilian positions, none of those at the SW Precinct itself), he and other commanders have less “discretionary overtime” in their budgets. In the past, that OT is what funded special emphasis patrols at Alki and other areas around the city; now, beefing up in that way has to be done differently: “We have to give somewhere,” Capt. Kessler explains, “we have to move our resources. But we have other areas in West Seattle that need to be protected too, so where do we shift the resources (from)?”

One two-part answer: The Community Police Team (CPT) and Anti-Crime Team (ACT), which together include more than half a dozen officers in the Southwest Precinct. In regular times, members of those two teams do not routinely respond to 911 calls, but Capt. Kessler says that for summer, they will be on patrol duty, and those changes will take effect later this month. They’ll focus on places like Alki as well as other parks. As a result, he says, “I think we will have as much or more presence on Alki, and in Lincoln Park, as well as South Park, and other areas, maybe a little more coverage. But it does mean our CPT officers will not be as available (for the work they do otherwise) – I’ll be talking about that at upcoming community meetings.”

While the captain says he would of course like to have more officers, he says, “Our staffing levels are as good as they have ever been” — aside from some impacts caused by officers out on longterm sick leave (such as Officer Jason McKissack, viciously attacked 11 months ago while responding to a call) and even an officer and sergeant who have just been recalled to military duty. He says there aren’t spare people from around the city who can be redeployed to fill such positions — other precincts need their staff just as much as this one, in some cases (like the Rainier Valley, with multiple shooting incidents) even more. “Alki IS a city priority — as is downtown – as is the U-District – as is the Rainier Valley,” Capt. Kessler says, also pointing out that more than 20 new officers are in the citywide pipeline now and scheduled to start work sometime this summer. (As for overall staffing levels – there might be a dozen or so officers on any given shift on any given day, out of the 17 to 24 officers who are assigned to each of the three “watches” across the 24/7 calendar.)

However, Capt. Kessler comes back to the issue of whether police visibility would have prevented what happened Friday night. “Presence alone is not going to prevent every event like this. You have some young guy who has a gun who decides he’s going to shoot someone, it can happen, even with officers in the area – and there WERE officers in the area. … The presence of a crowd, of someone who could have identified him, didn’t even deter him.” He considers the police response after Friday night’s shooting “phenomenal” — though it happened close to shift-change time, so some “Third Watch” officers had to respond from the precinct (which is on Delridge, near Home Depot), he says at least 10 officers were there “within minutes.” (As you may recall, the shooting happened across from Pepperdock, but the victim was put into a car by friends and driven east; police intercepted them near Seacrest, where medics took the victim to Harborview Medical Center downtown.)

Looking at the big picture – you may think this is spin, but it’s actually something we asked about, not information that was volunteered. Violent crime overall is low in West Seattle. “It’s an incredibly safe place,” in that regard, Capt. Kessler says. But, he is well aware: “A crime wave is when it happens to ‘me’.” And he also knows that the higher rate of nonviolent crimes – burglaries, car prowls, etc. – is unsettling as well. He stresses again what those working for him have told us, and we’ve reported, too: If you see something suspicious, CALL 911. Not only because you may be providing first word of something worse to come, but also because “call load” helps police leadership make staffing-level decisions.

“Citizens do a fantastic job of calling police, letting us know what’s going on. If you see things, especially on those hot summer nights … call .. be vigilant. If you call and say, ‘there’s a bunch of young guys down here and it looks like it’s going to blow up’ … sometimes you can just tell (trouble is imminent). It would be ridiculous for me to say we are going to have officers in all places at all times. (But) we look at where call loads are, see what our trends are, and staff to that.”

The most frequent complaints from Alki are noise and traffic, and he says those will be priorities too when possible — “we’re going to ask officers to tighten up on the loud stereos, and probably increase traffic enforcement. We can’t throw every officer in the Southwest Precinct into one area, but I think right now we have enough officers to do the job.”

And he reiterates, he would rather have those officers on the move than parked in a set spot — pointing out that the beach zone is two miles long, and who’s to say the spot you pick to set up would be the “right” one to prevent or deter crime? It’s the on-duty supervisor who gets to make the call regarding “whether somebody just sits there,” though Capt. Kessler says he encourages officers to park somewhere with “visual impact” when writing reports.

Again, the redeployment of CPT and ACT officers will take effect later this month. (5:55 pm note: A question in comments on this story reminds us, we were also told deployment of bicycle officers also is being considered for Alki again this summer.) You will see either Capt. Kessler or Lt. Paulsen at some key upcoming meetings, including the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council (Tuesday 5/19 at the precinct, 7 pm) and Alki Community Council (Thursday 5/21 at Alki Community Center, 7 pm). If you have city budgeting comments regarding police staffing, the mayor’s office is accountable for budgeting; for a bigger-picture look, there is a briefing on 1st quarter SPD staffing scheduled at the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting, 2 pm tomorrow.

26 Replies to "Alki shooting followup: Captain discusses police presence plan"

  • rykrite May 4, 2009 (4:20 pm)

    Wow, WSB. Thank you for asking all of the questions I wanted to ask. WOW. Truly appreciative over here.

  • Mike May 4, 2009 (4:26 pm)

    I suggest they take that unused bus they have and convert it over to a mobile precinct then. Larger and in great condition considering it never moves from the location at Home Depot on Delridge.

  • MargL May 4, 2009 (4:49 pm)

    That’s sad about the mobile precinct. Tho’ I’m not surprised. Toured the ‘RV’ at last summer’s SW Precinct open house and parts of it were being held together with duct tape and bungee cords!

  • Tony May 4, 2009 (4:59 pm)

    “officers out on longterm sick leave (such as Officer Jason McKissack, viciously attacked 11 months ago while responding to a call)”

    this case is slated to go to trial this week, finally.

  • WSB May 4, 2009 (5:30 pm)

    Tony – after Capt. Kessler mentioned the impending trial in our conversation, I checked with the prosecutor’s office to get some more info, and will be writing that up separately tonight – TR

  • Cami May 4, 2009 (5:38 pm)

    “Some sunny days, there’s minimal traffic, other days, there’s so much, you can barely get down the street.”

    HMMMMM… Sunny days in January, perhaps there’s less traffic. Sunny days in the summer are fairly consistent.

    One note to SPD: The last day of school for Seattle Schools is FRIDAY, JUNE 19th! This is always wild night for those of us that live at the beach. Please staff our area that day/night, rain or shine.

  • jwws May 4, 2009 (5:43 pm)

    Rather than mobile precinct how bout some bike patrols along Alki during the summertime?

  • WSB May 4, 2009 (5:45 pm)

    Thank you, I neglected to put that in – Capt. Kessler is looking at possible bike patrols too.

  • Kelly May 4, 2009 (7:25 pm)

    There is no southeast precinct. Just south, west, east & southwest – plus the headquarters building. There used to be bike patrols all the time down there. They also need to address the large gang presence that seems to really love Alki. Plus they bring their large dogs & I bet they’re really friendly w/other dogs. First really warm day of summer – they should’ve EXPECTED large crowds. Once gang members realize it’s relatively police free & that gangs from all over the city congregate – it’s a recipe for big trouble.

  • WSB May 4, 2009 (7:36 pm)

    Sorry, Kelly, that’s what my notes say but I should have doublechecked the precinct list on the SPD site – and of course the southwest precinct itself is just a few years old:

  • Wounded Knee May 4, 2009 (7:45 pm)

    How does the mobile precinct become a hooptie after only 12 years? Plus it was a great spot for Seattle’s finest to check out the bikinis while milking overtime. Your tax dollars hard at work peoples.

  • Alki Resident May 4, 2009 (8:46 pm)

    Wow, I am so impressed by the folks that run this blog and Captain Kessler. Really appreciate this dialogue. Fantastic. Thank you.

    This may sound cheesy, but I made some buttons for folks to wear to encourage a peaceful summer at Alki. I bought some to hand out for free to folks on Alki when it’s sunny too. You can find the button at this website:
    I think they are between a $1 and a $1.50 each.

  • Alki Resident May 4, 2009 (8:49 pm)

    Actually, here is a better link:

    Sorry, new to this!

  • T May 4, 2009 (8:56 pm)

    Perhaps if police video cameras were more visible on Alki, from the exit off the bridge around to the lighthouse, criminals may be deterred. If signs clearly stated that all activity is being taped, I bet we’d see a dramatic drop in the crime and just in general, cruising hassles. Like the flashing electronic signs that show you how fast your going, electronic displays showing people and cars could have a great effect also.

  • menolikey May 4, 2009 (9:49 pm)

    What about a mounted officers? I’d love to see the horses down on Alki.

  • Keri May 4, 2009 (10:09 pm)

    Hi WSB,

    Thank you for this report. I talk frequently about WS issues with friends who live on the east side (Redmond Bellevue, etc.) and while it is easy to see the crime problems we have in West Seattle (via WSB and as a resident) it isn’t easy to see them in… Redmond for example because they have no blog source such as WSB.

    While I honestly can’t say if crime is better or worse there, and am personally not a fan of crime reporting, I do appreciate that I can come to WSB and have knowledge of what is going on here, and a very good, thorough follow-up from those that your readers want to question directly, as well as a good source of links, information and schedule of where I can be involved.

    All of this, of course, is available if you pay attention to community council meetings and schedules, community crime meetings, etc. But for those of us who are barely keeping our lives together but do want to be involved it is very nice to have you as a resource. Thank you.

  • Mike May 4, 2009 (10:52 pm)

    “Plus they bring their large dogs & I bet they’re really friendly w/other dogs.”

    I had one charge, bark and snap at my dog as I passed by a group of these kids. They all got a laugh out of my dog running the other way, tail down and whimpering (although my dog weighs a good 20Lbs more than theirs). To make things worse a lady with a toddler was walking by at the time as well.

    I think providing residence of West Seattle with free parking permits to display so we can park along Alki at no charge and then impose a $10/hr parking fee for the rest. That way when these little rats decide to go hang out, they can pay for it. 4 hours, $40. Don’t pay and I think a nice flat rate of $400 per violation would do nicely. Don’t pay after 3 violations and your car is impounded.

    Maybe I should take my 4×4 pickup down, park right by these kids and blast some country music for them to listen to.

    I’d like to invite the guy that has an Irish Wolfhound to bring his to Alki and scare the living crap out of these kids. They’d never know how nice the Wolfhound is, but the size and look will make them pee their pants right there in front of you and your dog. Nothing like a small horse with teeth that can shred flesh staring at you.

  • WSB May 4, 2009 (11:01 pm)

    For what it’s worth, I just went through the entire long police report on the shooting, with what multiple witnesses told police. Nobody mentioned any dogs. Only noting this since several people have mentioned dogs – maybe you’re talking in the broader context of the Alki scene – TR

  • Mike May 4, 2009 (11:07 pm)

    The dogs are not in relation to the shooting. They are more typical with the kids that hang around Alki during the warmer days.

  • Ex-Westwood Resident May 5, 2009 (9:00 am)

    More police would be great, but until the city gov’t decides that it is worth it to prosecute the offenders and give them jail time this problem won’t go away.
    The gang-bangers know this and therefore have no fear in what they do. They know that they will out and back on the street within 4 hours.
    This IS NOT the fault of the police. They are doing a job that, most of the time is thankless, without the FULL support of the city gov’t from the Mayor all the way down to the council and through to the cities/counties DA office and face opposition from civic community groups.
    This shooting was done by black young adult against another black young adult and the NAACP is SILENT about it. What do you think the atmosphere would be if it had been a young white adult shooting a young black adult, or a white police officer shooting the shooter before he had a chance to shoot anyone?
    Crime committed by young adults/adolescents is ON THE RISE, but a lot of it could be prevented if community groups looked at crime instead of the race committing it and instead of trying to defend the perps, worked with police to lock them away.

  • WSB May 5, 2009 (9:09 am)

    Correction, city government does not prosecute offenders at this level. It’s county government. And they in turn are in a budget crisis, so prosecuting services have been cut. But then there are the judges who hand out the sentences – which in turn are presented within guidelines decided by legislators. If you think the county has money it should be spending on this instead of some other service it provides, the county council is who to talk to; if you want tougher sentences, talk to the state legislature. Just want to be clear on who’s accountable for what … TR

  • Ex-Westwood Resident May 5, 2009 (9:40 am)

    Yes I know that the County DA’s office determines who and what will get prosecuted, but the city does have a say in it.
    It a whole systemic problem from the bottom up. Criminals know that they can get away with most crimes because of the lack of willingness to prosecute, whether they have the money or not. Many criminals get support from community organizations even it they are “guilty as sin” by playing many “cards” such as the “race” card, the “immigration” card, the “education” card, the “poverty” card, the “single parent” card…etc. It has come to the point that there is ALWAYS someones/somethings fault for the person committing the crime except for the person who actually commits it!!
    The county seems to have money for the drunk hotel, but not to put criminals away. They seem to have plenty of money for social services, but not to keep the population safe from the criminal element. That goes for the city and state also.
    The BIG problem comes in the priority of how the money is spent. They fund the “NEEDS” of the city/county/state at low levels on purpose, then fund the “WANTS” almost fully, then cry about lack of money so they have an excuse to raise taxes.
    Funding should be the opposite. Fund the NEEDS fully then with what is left fund the WANTS and if you need more then ask the public for more taxes to support these programs.
    I define NEEDS as; Public Safety (Fire/Police), Education, Health Care (to a certain extent), Transportation.
    But in reference to prosecuting criminals, the city CAN put pressure on the county to prosecute an offender. The city can also support the police in deterring crime, but it doesn’t. When police are told the personal property crimes such as burglary, car theft, tagging are to be given the lowest priority…well what do you think will happen???

  • KT May 5, 2009 (10:32 am)

    Great that SPD would sit down and talk to you. I am afraid it really sounded like SPD is saying we’ll do what we can but we think we’re doing a good job now and we’re not sure there is much more we can do.

  • old codger May 5, 2009 (11:19 am)

    As far as violance on the rise… who was here with me in the 50s when the Hell’s Angles thought Alki would be a great place to call home? We stayed and they left. We set up take back the street fest, and we did litter pick up. Who was here in the 70s when the Latins thought Alki would be a good place to call home…. WE took back our streets.
    I agree with “been here a long time” on ONE thing only…. When it comes time for doing the litter pick up and tag removal, I’m one to the 10 out there too. You want this place to be off limits to non-residents? Well then zone the parking. But don’t cry when buisness suffer too.

  • BORN&RAISED WEST SEATTLEITE May 5, 2009 (8:41 pm)

    This is why I don’t go to Alki anymore…too bad enjoyed it for years!! This summer is going to be worst than the past two years and I like going to the Bamboo,Duke’s,Sunfish and Spud’s.. oh well maybe in the winter months ONLY!! That sucks!!

  • living in west seattle since 1985 May 10, 2009 (11:46 am)

    ONLY going to Alki in winter, fall and the soggy part of spring is not good enough! If we know about this hurricane of gang issues coming at us, why is there nothing concrete we can do about it? Its sad to think of just giving our beach up to a bunch of bratty kids with bad attitudes. I still think a citizen patrol and block watch would help the cops. They can’t be everywhere at once.

Sorry, comment time is over.