Story by Tracy Record
Photos by Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
Metro Transit Police promise to “put together a problem-solving project” for the transit hub in the heart of the West Seattle Junction.
That was one result of a meeting/walking tour this morning that also included reps from Metro Transit itself, Seattle Police, the city Department of Human Services (HSD), the West Seattle Junction Association (WSJA) and some of its merchants, the West Seattle Farmers’ Market, and the WS Chamber of Commerce.
The gathering was intended to seek solutions to concerns including safety and sanitation issues surrounding the bus shelters on both sides of SW Alaska between California SW and 44th SW. Recent police responses to the area even included a death investigation in late August (not a criminal case; the police report indicated witnesses had seen the victim become ill after drinking heavily earlier that morning).
While action already has been taken to make the area less attractive for loitering – such as removal of a bench and trimming of shrubbery along WSJA’s Alaska/44th parking lot, some other ideas emerged.
From Transit Police (a division of the King County Sheriff’s Office that’s responsible for handling crime in transit facilities), Pat Butschli suggested that the fixed porta-potty on the west end of the south-side shelter is a magnet for loiterers.
Edwin Obras from the city HSD explained that the city pays for rental and maintenance of that porta-potty and said he believes it was installed after a request from “the community.” (We’re following up with HSD about its history and cost.) He also said that while it’s scheduled for maintenance every weekday, there have been some reports that it’s been inaccessible for maintenance because of people loitering inside it and refusing to come out.
One participant asked if it could be “uninstalled.”
Would you rather people hanging out in the area relieved themselves out in the open? a Metro Transit official asked.
“They’re already doing that too,” was the response.
Another potential draw for loitering in the area: Openly available power outlets by the south-side shelter.
It was suggested that those be made inaccessible as soon as possible.
And yet another draw, suggested the Transit Police, is an easy fix – and since it’s something we’ve written about over and over again, we’re putting it in all caps – DON’T LEAVE ANYTHING IN YOUR CAR. Word about “fertile ground for car prowlers” gets around.
Would warning signs help? someone asked.
People seem to get numb to signs, so get the word out in other ways – flyers, e-mail, etc., suggested Butschli.
And when there is an incident, he stressed – call 911. They might not be able to answer all calls, but having a record of issues is important. He also added that being in a bus shelter is not a crime – provided you’re really waiting for a bus. Drinking, vandalizing, publicly relieving yourself, harassment – those are crimes/violations. (Here, by the way, is the Metro Code of Conduct, which also was mentioned.) The “squeaky wheel” gets the attention, he said, and the number of calls determines where resources are allocated. (If you are calling about a bus stop, include its number if you have that information.)
Some of the issues in the area near the stops are also Seattle Police issues, acknowledged Community Police Team Todd Wiebke, who is exclusively dedicated to handling “outdoor” issues. While much of what he does involves people experiencing homelessness, Officer Wiebke took great pains to stress that transient/loitering issues are NOT synonymous with homelessness, and he sees it as vital to ensure that situations are accurately described. When it’s a matter of homelessness, they respond with human services, Wiebke said, while transient behavior – trespassing, drinking, etc. – can simply be “stopped” (via enforcement).
Right now, he said, he is almost fully consumed with issues by West Seattle’s other busy transit center, Westwood Village, with Roxhill Park camping and other issues, but he said he wants to hear from people with outdoor concerns in The Junction and elsewhere, too, and asked us to include his e-mail address in this report: firstname.lastname@example.org – Overall, he described The Junction situation as a “campfire” compared to the Roxhill Park/Westwood “brush fire.”
What else can be done?
The bus stop areas actually rate fairly high in terms of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, Butschli said – lighting, openness. But as the group strolled on following an extended conversation, it was clear there were some lighting fixtures – not necessarily Metro’s – that could be improved.
And one Metro rep wondered if the Alaska/44th parking lot could be fenced off, so that wandering through and around it wouldn’t be as easy.
The meeting broke up after about an hour, with much followup to be done. WSJA’s new executive director Lora Swift noted that it was important to “have the conversation,” and if that conversation continues, progress can be made. We’ll continue to follow up.