By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Lessons on staying safe and updates on crime/safety concerns were offered at the first West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meeting of the year on Tuesday night.
More than two dozen people were at the meeting, not counting WSBWCN leaders Deb Greer and Karen Berge and four Seattle Police reps including precinct commander Capt. Steve Wilske, Crime Prevention Coordinator Mark Solomon, and Community Police Team Officers Jon Flores and Erin Nicholson.
35TH/MORGAN ISSUES: Capt. Wilske says the Community Police Team is working on the chronic problems at 35th/Morgan and says the community near there is energized – “within the next week or so, we’re going to have our first meeting with the High Point community and get a (neighborhood policing) plan in place.” Officer Nicholson said they’ve been working on safety at the bus stop and removal of the phone booth near the corner: “It’s been a place where criminal activity has been occurring.” She said they’ve also been working with the West Seattle Food Bank on any issues it might be having (you might recall the recent stabbing injured a food-bank volunteer who allegedly had been harassed by a neighbor of hers) and working on a possible fence between Walgreens and the corner mini-mart so that people can’t run through the area. “If you see something, you should call – sometimes we can’t get there right away, but if we can refer back to (a call), it really does assist us.” She added later, please be clear and specific about why you’re calling – what crime you think might be in progress, for example – and the description of who you’re seeing.
Officer Flores added, “Our plan of attack is two-fold – we’re changing perception of that area, working with the Seattle Housing Authority and Homeowners Association … it’s going to look different in the next month or two months when you drive by that corner, from the fencing to the shrubbery to the lighting to possibly some security cameras, improving sightlines into the area.” Is the store owner working with them? They’re developing a relationship, and trust said the officers, noting that the owner has been a victim too. “Give us a little bit of time, we’re working hard on it every day,” reiterated Officer Nicholson. One attendee said the Homeowners Association had met the previous night and is appreciative of the work SPD has done so far.
Can officers just park in the area and hang out there? Officer Flores said that’s one of the tools in their toolbox but they don’t have the people to do that “for every hotspot,” so they try strategies to improve things for the long term.
ROBBERIES: Capt. Wilske mentioned the five robberies in one recent week, with the victims mostly teenagers, the stolen items mostly electronics. He says that while they still believe two cases may be related, they haven’t made the connection; he does’t “see a series or pattern between the other three.” Asked in particular about the investigation of the attempted carjacking/robbery in Morgan Junction, he said they didn’t believe that was connected to any of the others, and didn’t have any new information about whether the possible recognition of the main suspect by the victim was making progress toward an arrest. He also mentioned two cmmercial robberies, including the 7-11 robbery reported here last weekend and one at a Rite-Aid store (we don’t have the date/details on that). Asked later if the five robberies in one week were unusual, he said, yes, the average is more like 1 or 2. Are the areas near schools being patrolled? Capt. Wilske was asked. He said officers are keeping an eye on key routes.
OTHER CASES/TRENDS: He said the Gang Unit is investigating the drive-by shooting in North Delridge and noted it’s the only activity at that address for at least a year. They believe an acquaintance of the target might be to blame. The shots-fired call in North Delridge on the 23rd was categorized as a possible robbery about to happen. Overall, they’re waiting for some forensics in that case and others.
Capt. Wilske’s briefing initially focused on the SeaStat stats, noting that the SW Precinct is the “lowest in property crime,” but acknowledging that’s no consolation if you’re a victim. He also acknowledged the “huge trend up in auto theft” citywide through last year, while noting that it started to drop a bit toward year’s end. He reminded everyone that “where cars are stolen, other cars are dumped” and that Parking Enforcement Officers are using automated license-plate scanners to check regular car-dumping areas for potential stolen cars. “I want to find the stolen cars, give the officers better equipment so we can get fingerprints out of these cars and identify the people responsible … and whether they’re juveniles or adults, get them arrested.” Precinct officers had made six burglary arrests in the past month, he noted, “which is pretty exceptional.” (That would include the case in which two suspects were arrested last Friday after breaking into a house where someone was home; they are now charged.)
STAYING SAFE: “Hang up the phone,” began Solomon – advice he said both adults and youth should heed. Pay attention to your surroundings. If you see unfamiliar people in your neighborhood, say hi, acknowledge their presence, let them know you’re watching them. If someone “with hostile intent says ‘give me your stuff’, what do you do?” he asked rhetorically. “Give them your stuff! You can always get more stuff – you can’t get another you. … Give them the stuff and get away. Throw it at them and run (if you have to).” And tell police; Solomon noted that one of the two recent robberies wasn’t reported to SPD until the next day. Capt. Wilske mentioned tracking apps, and Officer Flores said that the more a phone/device owner knows about her/his device, the better they can deal with something like that if it’s stolen.
One attendee said he has a lock on his phone and Officer Nicholson echoed that everyone should have one. “And on your (tablet),” added Solomon. However, when the case of the columnist’s stolen, tracked phone came up, officers noted that while they can do a knock-and-talk, they “still have to operate within the Constitution, obtain a search warrant, etc.” as Capt. Wilske said. Maybe eventually, he said, a GPS ping will be grounds for a warrant, but “we’re not there yet.” Solomon brought the discussion back at this point to – “We’re not talking about phones, we’re talking about young people being robbed.”
Officer Flores also suggested that if your kid(s) routinely walk certain routes, travel it with them and talk about how to be aware of where they are, where the intersections are, where they could go if they needed to get to a safe place.
Solomon also reminded people that car prowls are crimes of opportunity, and if people stop leaving things in their cars, the prowlers will stop “shopping” in the area – according to his analogy. If it does happen to you, be sure to report it – “if you don’t tell us, we don’t know.”
“Any commonalities in auto theft?” asked an attendee. Shaved keys, older Hondas and Subarus, said Capt. Wilske – those types of keys “will start just about anything.” As for dissuading thieves, “something as simple as a steering wheel lock” might at least push them away to another car. “Cars get stolen everywhere” though Westwood to Roxbury – the Frank 2 sector – has a somewhat higher rate, he said. A reminder erupted shortly thereafter – know your license-plate number.
ENCAMPMENTS: Asked about ongoing small encampments in various areas, Officer Flores said they rely on tips from the public, and when they go out to try to clear the area, they offer social-services referrals, though they can’t force people to act on those referrals. He stressed he can’t discuss the “long-term situation” (given, the inference was, the new proposal for encampments to be approved in certain areas).
COUNCILMEMBER RASMUSSEN: He wasn’t on the agenda but was invited to the meeting by someone in the community and so stopped by. He said he was impressed by the turnout and impressed by what he had recently heard from Capt. Wilske, that this precinct has a higher level of community involvement than he’d ever seen.
POLICE CHIEF HERE NEXT TUESDAY: Next Tuesday, Greer and Berge reminded the group, they and the Southwest Precinct Advisory Committee are bringing Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole to West Seattle for her first community conversation here, 6:30 pm Tuesday, February 3rd, same place as the WSBWCN gathering, the precinct’s community meeting room off Webster just west of Delridge.
ENGRAVING KITS: WSBWCN leaders and SPD reps reminded everyone of the engraving kits that can be borrowed from the precinct, so you can mark your valuables and increase the chances you’ll get them back if they’re stolen and then found.
The West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meets fourth Tuesdays, 6:30 pm, at the precinct.