West Seattle Blockwatch Captains Network’s milestone meeting

(Photo by Christopher Boffoli)
For the first time since its formation (largely via Facebook group), members of the West Seattle Blockwatch Captains Network met face-to-face this morning. While they all either lead a Block Watch group or are interested in doing so, the new network isn’t part of the official process – it’s born of the fact (as discussed in the WSB Forums a few months ago) that there’s no formal blockwatch-to-blockwatch communications system. (Southwest Precinct Crime Prevention Coordinator Benjamin Kinlow, the area’s point person for Block Watch formation, keeps a list, but that list can’t be shared with members.) Co-organizer Deb Greer shared detailed notes of what they discussed today and what “next steps” they’re planning on – read on:

Lots of great discussion among the 14 Blockwatch captains that met at Giannoni’s Pizzeria this morning to kick off the inaugural meeting of our new Blockwatch Captains’ Network. Thanks again to Donna Burns for opening the building for our meeting and being such a gracious host, including pizza coupons for the attending captains!

The meeting was organized by Deanie Schwarz (Highland Park), Deb Greer (Hansen View) and Karen Berge (Hansen View). The other captains came from “the safest neighborhood in West Seattle” to the “neighborhood with the most crimes committed in West Seattle” and everywhere in between.

We filled the 1 ½ hours with introductions and sharing the experiences from each neighborhood group. As well, we had discussions about future meetings, ways to connect with captains who are not online, and ideas on how to get our message out. We also had a large West Seattle map where we marked the Blockwatch locations we now know about.

Some highlights:

*Many of the Blockwatch groups are much larger than the recommended number of households. We had representation from neighborhoods with a Blockwatch of up to 174 homes and several with 50-80 homes. Many times, the blocks with no Blockwatch of their own just joined existing ones because there was no leader for their own block. Also, because crime was happening in the alleys, Blockwatch areas were expanded to the next street.

*Most groups, but not all, have moved to email or online groups (such as Google Groups) to communicate. However, some groups distribute newsletters and make phone calls as their primary method of communication. One person mentioned the effectiveness of using a phone tree approach. A neighborhood using Google Groups talked of the benefit of their e-mail address list being secure, but still allowing people to communicate with each other.

*Most of the groups meet at least yearly for the annual Night Out potluck. One group holds quarterly meetings each year.

*The issue was raised about neighborhoods that are organized as a Blockwatch becoming complacent in reporting small crimes that don’t seem significant at the time. It makes it hard for the neighborhood and the police to identify patterns.

*Two of the attendees mentioned that they had personally been the victims of identity theft.

Ideas shared:

*Use of “you are on camera” signs and/or surveillance equipment. This has been very effective, especially for one neighborhood that had a problem with drug dealing.

*Use of Blockwatch signs was also mentioned as helping deter potential crime.

* Some Blockwatch groups have combined Blockwatch with emergency preparedness efforts (such as SNAP training) and found that it broadened participation in the Blockwatch.

Expanding the Blockwatch Captains’ Network:

*As expected, there was a lot of interest in finding out who the other Blockwatch captains are and ways to do that.

*At least one group is planning to do outreach to identify other Blockwatch areas during the Night Out event in August. They plan to approach neighboring blocks that they can see/hear participating nearby.

 The flyers about the Blockwatch Captains’ Network (posted earlier this week) can be forwarded or printed out and distributed to help spread the word about this effort. As well, there is a new flyer that has more information about getting started using Facebook that you can help distribute.

*Another outreach suggestion was to have a “Blockwatch Captains’ Appreciation Day”, similar to the Precinct appreciation day, where Captains could meet each other, meet with police from their areas, and generally be appreciated by the public for all the work they do.

*Some raised concerns about what is going to happen to the Blockwatch program if it loses the federal funding.

*Someone raised the issue of whether we should apply for a neighborhood matching funds grant.

Next steps:

*There was general consensus that a good approach would be to meet monthly for a few months while this group is forming and growing; then begin to meet quarterly after it is a little more established.

*Several venues for future meetings were suggested that are or could be free to us.

*We talked about having a Blockwatch captains’ potluck in a park during the summer, instead of a meeting, so the Blockwatch captains can just talk and get to know each other.

* There was discussion about whether to meet during the week or on Sat mornings. I am going to put out a call for discussion or voting on which would work best for the most people that will show up. In the meantime, while we are doing monthly meetings we may have it on a Sat morning on one month and on a weeknight on another month while we are still ramping up and then come to a decision before the quarterly meetings. I’ll see what the consensus is.

Thanks for coming, everyone! It was a great first meeting.
Deb Greer

Those notes also were linked from the Blockwatch Captains Network FB group – which you can join here – along with the flyer that was mentioned (see it here). One other way to connect with fellow West Seattleites interested in preventing and fighting crime, along with other safety issues, is to come to the next monthly West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting, 7 pm April 20 at the SW Precinct (Delridge/Webster).

13 Replies to "West Seattle Blockwatch Captains Network's milestone meeting"

  • CurlyQ April 10, 2010 (9:40 pm)

    This is really inspiring. Thanks to all the folks who serve as blockwatch captains and who volunteer their time to make our neighborhoods safer and friendlier!

  • JM April 10, 2010 (9:48 pm)

    It would be more inspiring if one wouldn’t have to sign up to Facebook in order to participate.

  • A April 10, 2010 (10:32 pm)

    I HATE Facebook. What a waste of time.

  • homedk April 10, 2010 (11:56 pm)

    Just my opinion, but Facebook is what you make of it, just like television.
    One of the things I like about using Facebook for the Blockwatch Network is that we have more insight into who is participating, moreso than in situations where most people are posting anonymously. I think that may help make this more of an online community.
    I agree that Facebook has some downside, but since millions of people are already using it, it will get better. I recall a time when people expressed similar reservations about communicating via email…perhaps because it was so overrun with spam and viruses…but that changed.
    For those who can’t participate on Facebook, watch WSB for announcements of other in-person events!

  • JB April 11, 2010 (7:52 am)

    I am a block watch captain who isn’t on Facebook. I would love to participate but won’t waste my time with Fb. Let me know if there is an alternative.

  • Steve April 11, 2010 (12:55 pm)

    Thanks for turning a positive event into a negative one. The comments section is so good at that.
    Thank you Block Watch Captains for your effort to make our community, not only safer, but friendlier. That’s what makes for a great neighborhood.

  • homedk April 11, 2010 (10:30 pm)

    @CurlyQ & Steve, thanks for saying thanks!
    For those who require an alternative to Facebook, we will gladly send out meeting notices by email if you send us your email address; all of our meeting details will also be announced here on WSB. Our email is “wsblockwatchnet@bepreparedseattle.info”.
    You can also catch us attending the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meetings each month; those are also always announced here & at http://wscpc.org. Next one is on Monday, April 19th, 7 PM, at the SW Police Precinct.
    I hope that more of you will consider or reconsider joining the Facebook group; it has now grown to over 80 members & has the potential to be more interactive & participatory than just receiving periodic email updates about our meetings.
    We realize the public nature of Facebook, & the internet in general, so will be careful not to post details there that could be used against any of us. My personal feeling is that there isn’t a lot of difference between saying online that your neighborhood has a Blockwatch or having a Blockwatch sign on your street corner.
    If those of you who are opposed to Facebook have specific issues that you want us to consider, let us know & we’ll try to address them. We’ve created a flyer for those who have never used it & need some help getting started.

  • Yeah-me April 12, 2010 (12:18 pm)

    Another great reason for using Facebook? People who are IN blockwatches but are not the captain can be involved. Maybe not all BW Captains have time to make all meetings and communicate everything. This give individuals an option to be involved and not have to depend entirely on their captain.
    Really…you refuse to waste time on FB even though that is the requested method for contact????

  • sarelly April 12, 2010 (12:41 pm)

    I’m curious to know if we even have a Block Watch captain. If we do, I have never seen or heard from him or her. How would I find out?

  • JM April 12, 2010 (3:58 pm)

    Fellow captains,
    That is not the point, I understand why you are using an online network and totally agree. But why does it have to be Facebook?
    Just a simple wordpress blog would not only be much more powerful (over 50 different languages, tracking of replies and posts, automatic notifications, online calendars, no spam etc.), it wouldn’t require to sign up for something uncontrollable such as the nature of Facebook. Believe me when I say that I am in the online business since the 90’s and I am with you – just not Facebook.
    Thanks “homedk”, I guess I will have to go the route you have described.

  • Mary Dodson April 13, 2010 (1:25 pm)

    Deb Greer, this is fantastic! I am a captain in North Seattle with one block of 22 homes. We have almost nothing in this area. I am doing my best to learn and pull us together as a strong community, but I have no help and I don’t know another single block watch captain personally. Our point person in the North Precinct came once, but her funds have been cut bare and she can’t do much else. I will follow the development of your organization and see if I can develop a similar community here. Thank you! Mary Dodson

  • pat burgess April 14, 2010 (10:04 pm)

    Hi Deb, Great idea. I have been a Blockwatch Captain in Graham for 10 years now. I have been trying to get Pierce County to start a Captains meeting. I am encouraged that you have this going and will visit and get ideas to help me. Thanks!

  • homedk April 19, 2010 (3:59 pm)

    @sarelly – you can check with Benjamin Kinlow; he will be able to tell you if your block already has a blockwatch. And, if there isn’t one, he can help you set one up! His contact info is benjamin.kinlow@seattle.gov or (206) 684-7724.
    @JM – As part of the core group who started this effort, I can tell you that we weighed the various options including the use of a WordPress blog. WordPress has many great features & I use it for a ‘blog for my own neighborhood’s Blockwatch. It is powerful & I love the analytics & ease of use. The downside of using blogging software, including the free blogs from WordPress, is that it is set up primarily as a means for one person to publish things & others to comment on them. We didn’t want to use that model. Two of us also come from online high-tech backgrounds; we didn’t make the choice to use Facebook lightly or without understanding the potential downside. Not too long ago, email was considered “uncontrollable” because of the spam & viruses; I remember those days…but then, I also remember using Xenix. :)

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