By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
West Seattle’s two highest-ranking Seattle Police crimefighters are making the neighborhood rounds.
This Thursday, Southwest Precinct commander Capt. Joe Kessler and operations Lt. Pierre Davis are scheduled to brief a Fauntleroy Community Association-organized crime-prevention meeting (as previewed here).
This past week, we heard from both at the Alki Community Council, and from Lt. Davis at the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council, which, because its originally scheduled guests had been postponed, turned into a lengthy Q/A session.
Ahead, key points from both meetings:
ALKI COMMUNITY COUNCIL (Thursday 9/19)
Planning helped lead to a relatively trouble-free summer at the beach, the council was told. No one disputed that description.
“I hope Alki looked a lot better this summer,” Kessler said. He listed two points that factored into police planning – SPD chiefs and precinct commanders sitting down to talk about how to improve “emphasis patrols,” by allocating resources directly to the precinct leaders – “So we had a lot more money and a lot more time” for overtime devoted to Violence Prevention Patrols. “In this precinct, we focused it primarily on the business districts primarily in The Junction and on Alki. We were able to hit Lincoln Park pretty hard.” And, he says, it seems to have made a difference. He spoke of serving several shifts as overnight commander during the course of the summer, and checking out key locations firsthand – “and it really did look different to me.”
Because of the resources they could spend, they not only had extra resources at night, he said, they also put extra officers on Alki, for example, during the day. “You have to set the tone early” in the season, he noted. The “visitors” from outside the area “need to be able to see a lot of officers.” And, he says, they were able to staff the key areas from the start of the summer. which he believes made a difference, and he’s hopeful to get the extra money for overtime and staffing next summer too. Some will stretch into fall, though he said they staff wisely, and if “crowds are down or the weather’s bad” they pull back.
They also used the Anti-Crime Team as needed, Kessler said, observing that the precinct’s violent-crime rate is low, with the exception of the late-summer street-robbery spike (“primarily resolved” with arrests, he said), so the ACT is working primarily 1 pm-10 pm, focusing on burglaries and repeat offenders. (They are “our hunters,” Lt. Davis said.)
Lt. Davis reiterated that taking action early in summer made a difference, and in terms of violence, “it was a pleasant summer.” Not pleasant in terms of burglaries – especially suspects “based in the southeast area (of the city)” who headed this way. Alki is almost burglary-free at the moment, he said, and he hit the familiar theme of citizens calling in when they spot something suspicious. Asked about the earlier burglary wave, he mentioned a “crew” blamed for almost 40 in one week, but said one member of that “crew” had been arrested. A woman who had been hit by burglars said she found potential blood evidence long after the initial investigation and had trouble reaching anyone at the precinct – Capt. Kessler said the non-emergency line is a good backup, and provide them with a case number, and request that an officer come out.
He talked about the arrests of “one-man crime wave” suspects, and said yet another one is likely to get arrested soon thanks to some evidence just found. And Capt. Kessler provided a lively rendition of how a suspect – apparently the one we had written about earlier in the week – went around with detectives recounting his crimes in detail.
ACC vice president Randie Stone asked if there was any word of progress in solving the Beach Drive murder of Greggette Guy a year and a half ago. It’s a “pretty important open homicide,” said Capt. Kessler, and detectives “are actively working it.”
Asked about the school-flasher incidents – “we’re looking (intensively for) that individual, because that’s BAD, really bad,” said Lt. Davis.
They also touched on the informal encampments that are just about everywhere in greenbelts, and said that Community Police Team officers are working with other city agencies to “coordinate the response” to them.
WEST SEATTLE CRIME PREVENTION COUNCIL (Tuesday 9/17)
The scheduled guests – principals of Chief Sealth International High School and Denny International Middle School – were postponed due to a conflict for Sealth’s new principal, Aida Fraser-Hammer (PTSA meeting). That led to Lt. Davis, who usually speaks for a few minutes at the WSCPC meeting’s start, but this time ended up with a lengthy Q/A session following the briefing.
“We are faring a lot better than other areas in the city,” he began, saying that’s usually the case. He sounded a familiar theme: People say they’ve been burglarized or otherwise hit by crime – “did you report it?” – he says a majority of the time, people say they did not. He also noted that police do sometimes have trouble responding to non-emergency calls in a timely manner, but they need to know what’s happening where, so they know where to assign resources.
Advice: Keep your car locked – don’t fall victim to the myth “if I lock the car, (prowlers) will break the windows.” Don’t leave windows open at your home, even if you’re just running to the store. Burglaries, car prowls, other property crimes are the majority of what happens here. What it takes to keep somebody in jail depends on the information that victims and witness can provide. Sometimes people don’t want to testify, Lt. Davis said – but they should; “help us help you” – it’s not enough for them just to get arrested.
“We did have a pocket of individuals running around doing burglaries citywide,” he said – it wasn’t just West Seattle. He suggested that West Seattle is suffering from sharing a border with the unincorporated area to the south, where the King County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have as many resources as SPD. A prolific burglar, for example, who had been busy in city limits was just picked up “over there.” He says home surveillance cameras can be invaluable – and in that case, they have him caught red-handed, and he alone might be responsible for “half our recent spree.” He also referred to a three-or-four-person “wrecking crew” that had been working citywide. But he also mentioned people getting out of jail after short sentencing and getting right back down to business, often to support drug habits. In July, burglaries averaged 9 or 10 per week; then there was that busy time in August, when there were 39 in one week. One suspect was nabbed – and as soon as he was in custody, the crime rate dipped, even though they didn’t get his accomplices, Lt. Davis said. He said local officers are “making a full-frontal attack on these individuals.” Extra resources were moved from nights to days at one point “just to combat the burglary problem.”
Are surveillance cameras helpful? he was asked. Recent meetings focusing on them were mentioned. (Here’s our coverage of the West Seattle Block Watch Captains’ Network discussion last January.)
The question of graffiti came up – Lt. Davis reminded people to paint it out as soon as possible, to discourage people.
Another question: What about suspicious people hanging around photographing kids at local skateparks and elsewhere? If you’re worried – call 911, Lt. Davis said.
Speaking of skateparks, one person was worried about skaters being solicited for/asked about gangs at Roxhill Skatepark – asked whether they’re red or blue – Lt. Davis acknowledged it might be time for the Gang Unit to go check it out. Overall, though, he said there wasn’t much gang activity this summer. He said there were emphasis patrols this past summer in areas including Alki, “dedicated” there – and continuing right now – to try to stop trouble before it even started.
How is police staffing? “I’m a greedy person and we’re never going to have enough,” Lt. Davis laughed, while then lauding the mayor for trying to add officers, “And we do need them, we really and truly do.”
There’s trouble at Hiawatha, with youth using drugs and alcohol, one attendee said. Lt. Davis said he didn’t have much information on that specific location but once alcohol went on sale in grocery stores, it was trouble. There’s somebody dealing drugs from a backpack in Hiawatha and somebody else going into Safeway “ripping off booze and selling it to the kids,” other attendees said. But “our kids don’t want to be the snitch,” said parents, but they are trying to keep an eye on Hiawatha now.
They have a community meeting set up at WSHS on October 10th, 7 pm, with a variety of participants expected, including local schools, Safeway, police, and more.
Lt. Davis said getting the school involved first would be paramount to success against this type of problem.
One attendee asked: What steps as a citizen can I do to make a drug dealer feel uncomfortable?
Don’t put yourself in danger, Lt. Davis warned. “Call us – that’s what we do. Our main goal is to protect you.” He wouldn’t elaborate on the “legal rights” she kept asking about – “because that involves risk,” he said. He again stressed, call police. “What about talking to a fellow citizen?” she pressed. “Don’t put your hands on him. …” She said the activity had been seen mostly right after school – 2:30 to 4:30 in the afternoon – though she subsequently acknowledged it had lessened lately.
Community Police Team Flores said they would do what they could to get the Anti-Crime Team out to the park, and if someone appears to be selling illegal drugs, call 911 when you see it and stress that it’s happening *now*.
Other questions included “what if you see someone doing illegal drugs on their property?” You can ask that police go by. What if they did and they see it? They’ll do a “knock and talk,” Lt. Davis said. And that might alert them to “something interesting” happening in a particular house, raising the question “where did you get your drugs?” (It was stressed that they were talking about something stronger than marijuana.) “Is there a meth problem?” asked one person. “Not necessarily a problem – but it’s the drug of choice among some of our undesirables,” he said.
Another issue that came up: When burglars are caught, how can a victim find out if their belongings are found? “Via our detectives,” said Lt. Davis.
He talked about the “victim followup” left when an officer responds to an incident. – make sure you document what was stolen – if it’s found, that’s what officers would review to correlate – the more information the better, as investigators try hard to connect evidence found “in the area” with a suspect they might have arrested.
The West Seattle Crime Prevention Council‘s meetings are usually on third Tuesdays, 7 pm, at the Southwest Precinct. But again, if you’re interested in crime-prevention/trend info, come hear from precinct leadership at the Fauntleroy Community Association-presented community-safety meeting this Thursday, September 26th, at The Hall at Fauntleroy – ice cream at 6:30, meeting at 7.