Junction Neighborhood Organization: Crime concerns, closeup

Story and photos by Christopher Boffoli
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

About a dozen Junction-area residents turned out at Ginomai tonight for an information-packed meeting of the Junction Neighborhood Organization. Much of the meeting centered around the guest speaker, SPD Officer Tom Burns, who talked about neighborhood crime trends and a range of issues relating to SPD activity in the Junction retail district and surrounding neighborhoods. In particular, Burns touched on some growing gang activity, homeless people living in cars on neighborhood streets, recent bank robberies, and ongoing challenges SPD officers face in dealing with crime.

JuNO President Erica Karlovits opened the meeting and introduced Officer Burns, who told the group that he grew up in West Seattle and knows its neighborhoods very well. He began by assuring the attendees that the community is safe. He said that most of the crimes SPD deals with in the Junction area are non-violent property crimes, though he admitted that lately there has been a group of about troubled teens that the SPD has been watching. They are roughly a dozen members who have been promoting themselves as the “Junction Bloods.” The group is led by a couple of young men who are actually gang members, and the rest are just aspirational teens who aren’t in school. Burns said their activity has largely been a nuisance thus far but that their activity has been escalating from petty crime and vandalism to dealing an increasing amount of marijuana and, lately, organized street robberies where the gang members work in concert by creating distractions.

Burns said the police first approached the parents of these teens but that most were completely disinterested in doing anything to help. He also said the efforts of the SPD have been hampered by the limits and peculiarities of the juvenile laws. Officer Burns added that many troubled teens seem to know how to work the system, noting in some cases that the living conditions in juvenile detention are an improvement over the bleak circumstances facing them at home. And Burns said that, unless the crimes in question involve violence, the City doesn’t seem to have much interest in prosecuting juveniles. So SPD has been working with Junction businesses to aggressively enforce no-trespass contracts, which seem to work better as there are monetary tickets attached to the violations, of which he says the City seems to take more seriously. Burns said the group has been selling drugs to middle- and high-school kids, some of whom catch buses at Junction stops. But he also said that the violence of the group has been growing and that they recently assaulted a homeless man.

Homelessness was another issue for which the group had many questions. Some of the residents present brought up cases of homeless people who have been living on various streets around the Junction. Burns first addressed a direct question about the man who was found dead in the Junction on April 12th (WSB coverage here).

(April 12 WSB photo)
Burns said that the case was ruled an overdose. He said the man was a heroin addict who had gone downtown to get his allotted free dose of methadone and then stole two other doses from his friends and took all three at once. Burns said that many transients see West Seattle as a relatively safe place for them but that their presence often makes residents feel unsafe. He said the best strategy is to have a sense of compassion, seasoned with a healthy dose of concern. He cautioned residents about the dangers of approaching homeless people in cars and encouraged those concerned to call the SPD out to at least run a check on them. Burns said that in many cases much of the property crime around the Junction is being committed by transients and other people who do not have a stake in the neighborhood.

Burns did not have kind words for the Real Change program which, in his assessment, started out as a worthy program but has devolved. He said he has personally made calls to the program’s director that go unreturned. And he claimed that a high percentage of the people soliciting donations for Real Change are indeed heroin addicts who are using the money illegitimately, and that they see the citizens of West Seattle as easy pickings.

Of the people who have chosen to live on the streets, Burns ticked off the significant resources, shelters, soup kitchens, and even medical and dental care that is made available to homeless people in Seattle. He said “You could eat for free seven times a day if you wanted to.” He added that many of the most problematic homeless people he deals with are those who refuse to take advantage of services and who, for whatever reason, stubbornly refuse to conform to society.

The conversation moved to the subject of recent bank robberies in West Seattle; Burns said the issues of drug abuse and bank robberies are closely related. “The banks in the Junction and the banks in the Admiral district are prime robbery candidates because you can get on the West Seattle Bridge quickly and be gone,” says Burns. He said that 99 percent of bank robbers are caught because, since most of them are drug addicts, investigators can usually look at the amount of money that was stolen and calculate when the robbers will strike again based on the burn rate of how quickly they’ll go through the money buying drugs. Additional patrols can be put in place on the days that police determine that robbers will return. He said repeat offenders have a declining success rate: “90% the first time, 50% the first time and 10% the third time.”

From there Burns talked about some individuals who live in and around the Junction that the SPD is watching closely, including a violent sex offender who has made repeated threats against police officers and a man who has been strong-arming some local businesses for merchandise. Burns encouraged residents to not be afraid to call 911 if they think something is happening. He added that residents who give police officers a careful description of suspicious individuals or criminal activity provide police with their best chances of locating suspects. “Sometimes our work is only as good as the information we’re getting,” says Burns, “But don’t intervene. Call the police and let us handle it.” He told a story about a woman who called 911 because her fourteen year-old son refused to do the dishes, saying they do get some frivolous calls that waste resources and time. Though he emphasized that communications is a catalyst to fighting crime so people feeling comfortable calling 911 is key.

He mentioned the sentencing of Junction-area residential burglar Larry Weeks, a young man who appeared to be well-dressed and clean-cut. Burns said, “You can’t tell what criminals look like” so you should not look at their appearance but “their behavior.” Burns told the group about a tremendous neighborhood-wide effort near the Junction in which residents organized an “immediate neighborhood telephone and e-mail alert list” that was instrumental in driving down some persistent criminal activity in their area. (More on this story tomorrow.)

Officer Burns related many of the challenges that Seattle police officers face with the classic revolving door of criminals being returned to the streets because of lax courts and sentencing. In his view, he said, problems range from out-of-touch judges who live in million-dollar houses to prosecutors who plead down cases in order to maintain a high conviction rate. Burns obliquely referred to the current investigation into a videotaped incident involving an SPD officer using racially charged language and kicking a detainee while investigating a crime in South Lake Union, noting that the SPD took 650,000 calls last year and yet there were only 25 internal affairs investigations department wide. Burns said that he understands why police officers must be held to a higher standard and that, while there will always be a small percentage of those who make serious mistakes, that his experience within the department has been that Seattle has the benefit of a Police Department with a very high level of accountability and very little corruption. He also noted that, perhaps reflecting the education level of the City’s population overall, that the department has a remarkable percentage of well-educated officers. Burns encouraged West Seattle residents to take advantage of the SPD ride-along program, saying it offered a first-hand experience of what officers go through on their shifts. “I will see more stuff in a month than most people will see in a lifetime.”

Though he admitted that it might sound obsequious, Burns finished his talk by saying that the SW Precinct is especially lucky to have Captain Kessler at the helm and that he has been instrumental in putting in place additional resources, including an “09” car that is not dispatched on calls but focuses on investigations and community policing.

Burns wrapped up and a few residents of Alaska House expressed their concerns about noise levels of last year’s West Seattle Summer Fest music stage near the intersection of Alaska and 42nd. Karlovits told the group that the planning committee for the festival has made some changes to the locations of the stages, partially to address previous complaints. The larger stage, which will feature musical performances later at night, will be the stage up by the post office. Karlovits said a smaller stage, with music ending at 9:30pm, will be relocated to the very center of the Junction.

The same residents of Alaska House also expressed concerns about cars illegally turning through the crosswalks at 42nd and Alaska, asking what the SPD might be able to do to make the crosswalks safer, especially with their high level of use by seniors and people with disabilities. Officer Burns suggested that a request be made for an increased detail at that intersection. He referred the group to SDOT in response to their question about whether the “walk” period of the lights could be made slightly longer.

Before the meeting ended, Karlovits encouraged local residents to participate in upcoming meetings of the Triangle Planning Advisory Group (which meets at 6 pm at the Senior Center), tomorrow (May 12th) and June 9th. She also invited people to join her at the June 2nd meeting of the Southwest District Council, which she co-chairs (7 pm at South Seattle Community College), which will be attended by Mayor McGinn, with Q&A time expected.

She told the group that, in response to a recent letter sent to the current owners of the Fauntleroy Place/Whole Foods site, that she would be meeting with the owners for a site visit that she hoped would begin a dialogue about safety and aesthetic issues regarding the current state of the site.

Lastly, Karlovits reminded the group that the dedication ceremony for Junction Plaza Park is scheduled for June 29th at 6 pm and that, as soon as more construction progress is made with some of the internal elements of the park, SDOT will be coming in to completely rebuild the surrounding sidewalks, including the section that reaches all the way up to Cupcake Royale (WSB sponsor).

Note: In the top photo, you may recognize 34th District House Position 2 candidate Geoffrey “Mac” McElroy, to the left of Officer Burns. He didn’t get a chance to speak because the agenda was so busy, but was invited to return in the future. (He did speak at the Admiral Neighborhood Association meeting a bit later, which will be included in our coverage as we add to that story in the morning.)

The Junction Neighborhood Organization meets the second Tuesday, every other month, 6:30 pm, at Ginomai.

31 Replies to "Junction Neighborhood Organization: Crime concerns, closeup"

  • Nicole May 12, 2010 (2:04 am)

    “Burns said the police first approached the parents of these teens but that most were completely disinterested in doing anything to help. He also said the efforts of the SPD have been hampered by the limits and peculiarities of the juvenile laws. Officer Burns added that many troubled teens seem to know how to work the system, noting in some cases that the living conditions in juvenile detention are an improvement over the bleak circumstances facing them at home. And Burns said that, unless the crimes in question involve violence, the City doesn’t seem to have much interest in prosecuting juveniles. So SPD has been working with Junction businesses to aggressively enforce no-trespass contracts, which seem to work better as there are monetary tickets attached to the violations, of which he says the City seems to take more seriously. Burns said the group has been selling drugs to middle- and high-school kids, some of whom catch buses at Junction stops. But he also said that the violence of the group has been growing and that they recently assaulted a homeless man.”
    I have noticed these teens in the Jefferson Square area primarly, and it makes me feel pretty uncomfortable. My heart goes out to anyone struggling to find their place in the world and figure out who they are…especially children. The concern I have is violence escalating as I have also seen another group of young people dressed in blue hanging around where these “junction bloods” are. I have a young child and the last thing I want is to be caught in the crossfire…or for anyone else to be for that matter. I think it is crucial as a community that we step up and show a balanced assertion of intolerance for violence or mischief…with a dose of love and advocacy for education and responsibilty. What kind of programs do we have available for these young people? Who will step forward to help mentor these children who clearly do not have it at home? Reality is, these guys aren’t going to go away. If they aren’t intercepted pronto, it is only going to escalate.

  • dale May 12, 2010 (8:47 am)

    Hooray for Officer Burns and his side-kick Officer Besaw for being a presence in West Seattle! Learned more about what’s going on in our area then the local newspapers provide in months.

  • fiz May 12, 2010 (9:01 am)

    Was glad yesterday to see officers checking the group that loiters around the Wells Fargo steps. They can be very intimidating. We use the parking lot entrance because of them.

  • Todd_ May 12, 2010 (9:46 am)

    Great info. Thanks.

  • star55 May 12, 2010 (10:19 am)

    Junction is a great place but needs police presence during the evening.

  • Ken May 12, 2010 (11:42 am)

    I’m sorry the Officer thinks poorly of the Real Change program. My experience has always been 100% positive with the vendors I’ve seen, and I think it’s immensely better than just panhandling.

    I hope he’s wrong about the program going downhill and it was just an isolated incident or two.

  • EmmyJane May 12, 2010 (1:02 pm)

    Ken- I’ve had all positive experiences with the Real Change program except for one exchange between two regulars outside the Jefferson Square Safeway. The woman started screaming at the man to get away from her and tried to pull me into their argument. She told me he’s a druggie that beats her regularly. Those two are still REGULARLY there, so it makes me uneasy.

  • Keri May 12, 2010 (1:09 pm)

    thank you for information that, those of us who can’t make it to these meetings wouldn’t otherwise get.

    I’m curious I’d these teens are also passing themselves off as perfume vendors? I watched some very erratic looking teens doing what could be (?) a distraction technique the other day (stepping in front if people, yelling loud in faces as people walked by, etc. ) while others would push generally younger men to come ” look at what I have in my bag, you won’t be sorry … Your lady like perfume?” and nearly corner them into doorways.

    The report reminded of the incident … Just wondering if it is another wY to keep an eye out.


  • bleebah May 12, 2010 (1:10 pm)

    Who is the violent sex offender that the SPD is referring to in this article? I think we have the right to know specifically, given the SPD are monitoring this particular person’s actions closely. It would sure be a nice public service for the WSB to unveil this person. I know we can look up sex offenders on the internet and find out who they are and where they live, etc. but it doesn’t tell us if the police are in the process of closely monitoring them, no real time news is provided on these websites, so please do tell.

  • Changingtimes May 12, 2010 (1:56 pm)

    Yes! Please more info on the violent sex offender I read this right before going to bed last night and it terrified me into a sleepless night!

  • Paul in Gatewood May 12, 2010 (2:15 pm)

    “Burns said the police first approached the parents of these teens but that most were completely disinterested in doing anything to help.”

    This is the most maddening sentence of the whole story.

  • HolyKow May 12, 2010 (2:38 pm)

    Really, terrified into a sleepless night by a report that someone bad might be in the area. If you sat down and thought about it, there is always someone bad nearby, you just never know. As another poster said, look up the sex offenders in your area on the internet. They were there yesterday, they are there today, and they will be there tomorrow.

    What you have to do is the best you can at protecting yourself at all time within reason. If you are comfortable with owning a gun and are trained to do so, fine. If not, get an alarm system. If not that, some choose dogs, but I find that to be far to easily defeated (dogs choose sausage over combat most times…proven distraction method for seasoned thieves).

    Point is, there always has been and always will be (at least in our lifetimes) bad people around. Don’t fear it, embrace the process of staying as safe as you can without going all ‘Redundant shack of redundancy’ on us.

    As my mother used to say ‘at any point we could get hit by a bus anytime, live for today’.


  • HolyKow May 12, 2010 (3:36 pm)

    PIG (paul in gatewood): could not agree more. The failure of the young is, in most cases, to be laid at the feet of disengaged parents. Some have issues that progress beyond what any parent could do on their best day, but by and large, lack of responsibility breeds the same and orders of magnitude ensue from there.

    And there is nothing…we…can…do. Except watch the Reds (junction bloods) and the Blues (CaliAve Crips?) fight it out, in some cases violently and with other innocents getting caught up in the Xfire.

    sad really.


  • cjboffoli May 12, 2010 (3:54 pm)

    Paul in Gatewood: I didn’t include it in the article, but Officer Burns said that some of the parents actually admonished the SPD for “picking on” their kids.

  • LAintheJunction May 12, 2010 (4:46 pm)

    Thanks so much for this detailed summary of the meeting for those of us who couldn’t attend. Excellent reporting and much appreciated!

  • to May 12, 2010 (7:48 pm)

    ‘some parents actually admonished SPD for ‘picking on’ their kids’
    Like the mother that admonished the judge in the bus beating of the Alki woman? The kids that are in the most trouble have parents that protect and condone their behavior. They scream ‘harrassment’ any time a police officer deals with their kid whether they did something wrong or not.

  • Alert May 13, 2010 (1:16 am)

    Totally agree with Nicole’s comments, above. Great coverage, WSB, to educate those who couldn’t attend the meeting, about current trends. Would love to see a follow-up meeting with larger attendance by WS residents, to educate us in ways we can help: programs to volunteer for, what to notify police about, whether to take pictures of suspicious individuals with your phones, etc. If there are apartment houses with pockets of crime or troubled youth, how can residents, churches, businesses become aware of this and act positively. At what point can people be evicted from apartments when they are attracting crime or gang members to an area? Let’s have another meeting to educate the average person in ways to increase safety in West Seattle.

  • Kayleigh May 13, 2010 (5:34 am)

    If the cops had talked to our parents about us kids, we would have been in trouble so epic we’d still be crying today, 30 years later. (makes me sound like an old fart, I know.)
    Maybe the kids will grow up to “only” steal Native American spiritual art, which isn’t a big deal or even a crime.

  • Neal A. Lampi May 13, 2010 (8:47 am)

    I am the field organizer with Real Change News. I was in the Junction Tuesday May 11, I spoke to Mona Assistant Mgr from Safeway, and Marie a Manager from the state liquor store. I introduced Mona to a vendor in good standing, and thanked Marie for her cooperation in trespassing a rogue vendor. The very day officer Burns maligned Real Change’s character I was out quietly doing my job, building community.

    I come to the junction often when I read what Officer Burn has to say about Real Change Vendors I think of how my overtures toward the beat cops have been rebuffed. I would love to have a closer relationship with the police, I have not known how to establish it.

    ” a high percentage of the people soliciting donations for Real Change are indeed heroin addicts who are using the money illegitimately, and that they see the citizens of West Seattle as easy pickings.”

    Real Change News has always had a significant problem with rogue vendors. We suspended a vendor’s right to sell for us yesterday for supplying a rogue from West Seattle. I am working on building relationships in the community that enhance the cross class connections our vendors have established. The vast majority of our vendors carry on in a responsible manner.

    I look forward to meeting Officer Burns, any other officers and other members of the community on Tuesday June the 8th @ 6:30 PM

    Respectfully Yours

    Neal A. Lampi

    Field Organizer
    Real Change News
    2129 Second Ave.
    Seattle WA. 98121
    PH (206) 441 3247 Ext. 211
    M-F Out of office, (206) 422 2992

  • Paul in Gatewood May 13, 2010 (1:12 pm)

    cjboffoli – That’s pretty bad that the parents thought SPD was “picking” on their kids. If the police had talked to my parents about me when I was a teen I wouldn’t have seen the outside world for a few weeks.

    HolyKow – thanks for your words. It’s a frustrating situation. On a lighter note, it didn’t occur to me until now that the abbreviation of my handle is PIG. Oh well :)

  • Pie May 13, 2010 (9:18 pm)

    I’ve been looking for something here at WSB about these teens for over a month. And haven’t found anything. If anything has been posted, it seemed to be buried. 

    I’ve had numerous employees and business owners tell me about these idiot teens acting like jerks around the junction.
    I’ve heard and seen these social rejects around, and for the first time ever living in West Seattle, I’ve been a little wary about walking around MY neighborhood alone. And I come here for updates often and have found nothing until now. 2 months this has been going on. And I found this under the header of “Crime Concerns”. Don’t make people dig for info like this! 

     Not one aquaintince that lives near the Junction hasn’t been talking about this constantly for months. Please don’t ignore this anymore. 

    Not happy with the reporting on this WSB. And please don’t plead “giving the gang (hah) satisfaction of getting in the news”. I really doubt any of the “gang” members are blog readers. 

    • WSB May 13, 2010 (10:01 pm)

      Hi, Pie. Not “ignoring” anything. We go to every community council meeting, every Crime Prevention Council meeting, answer our phone and e-mail around the clock, and this is the first time this has come up in public (where we’ve been present). I’m surprised no one has brought it up at the Crime Prevention Council, if it’s been such a pervasive problem. Meantime, all the people you say are talking about this, haven’t talked about it with us – and we haven’t encountered these “idiot teens” ourselves, though we are in The Junction daily – maybe since we are usually there in the morning or early afternoon, it’s the wrong time of day to encounter them. I do recall one phone call some weeks back about teens hanging out at the 7-11 – have looked every time I’ve driven by and not seen anything out of the ordinary. Sorry to have let you down – we spend early morning through post-midnight seven days a week hurtling from story to story to story, both in person and online, and of course wish we could do a better job. I’m glad to have had Christopher at this meeting, one of four community councils we staffed on Tuesday night, to relate Officer Burns’ story in such detail – TR

  • Jill Loblaw May 15, 2010 (7:48 am)

    TR: The blog does a wonderful service of connecting the West Seattle community with current news. Keep up the good work and know that you are appreciated.

  • $GOON$ May 15, 2010 (10:59 am)

    Wen r the meeting i would love to be there at one

  • tincanrocket May 18, 2010 (10:33 am)

    It is this type of dialog b/t citizens and the SPD that will ultimately create the one-two punch and knock down crime in our neighborhood.

  • Anon. May 20, 2010 (4:52 pm)

    I happen to know these ‘Junction Bloods’ and they are really not that hardcore. They have been known to steal from people, but not adults, mainly just teenagers. Someone who commented above “$GOON$” is one of the “Bloods”. They’re just mocking you now.

  • J May 26, 2010 (11:42 pm)

    My blue Ford Thunderbird was stolen from Admiral Way the weekend of May 8th/9th. I was trying to sell it and had it parked with a for sale sign.

    I got a call from Swedish Physicians on CA Ave the following Monday saying that it was in their lower parking garage missing two tires. We found screwdrivers left behind, so we believe they punched out the passenger lock (found pieces the next day in the grass) and punched out the ignition, which is evidently how they start some cars now. I’m guessing they were interrupted because they left behind a huge jack under the car, my CD changer in the trunk w/CDs and the other two wheels/tires. The jack could have been bad.

    Of course I heard “I told you so” because I was the one who didn’t want to move it before I took off for the weekend. Shame on me.

    I also learned after the fact that you are only allowed to park a car on the street like that for 3 days before it needs to be moved.

    Anyway, just wondering if anyone would have seen anything. I learned this parking garage is a popular place for cars to be dumped or stripped, private and empty on weekends. Also a party hangout. Thank you, J

    • WSB May 27, 2010 (12:18 am)

      Hi there – this is an old story and pretty much no one will see your comment – you are welcome to e-mail your story to us for use in a front-page Crime Watch roundup, though – Tracy – editor@westseattleblog.com

  • Junction Resident June 6, 2010 (11:14 pm)

    The Safeway at Jefferson Square is irresponsible for allowing a homeless shelter to take up permanent residence outside its doors. It is not a safe environment for customers or local residents to have to wade through a gauntlet of homeless persons screaming at one another and begging for money.

    If Safeway and other individuals want to aid the homeless, the donate to a homeless shelter and other organizations that aid these individuals in finding housing and keeping the public streets and sidewalks safe for local residents.

    • WSB June 6, 2010 (11:54 pm)

      Do you mean a homeless shelter literally, or, multiple people you believe to be homeless? Do you see them sleeping on the premises?

Sorry, comment time is over.