By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Crime trends, community Q & A, and a briefing you might call “Gangs 101” were all part of last night’s West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting at the Southwest Precinct.
CRIME TRENDS: Capt. Pierre Davis opened the meeting with the latest, saying the precinct is “putting out as many resources” as it can, since “things get a little bit more boisterous” in the summer around here. That includes pulling SWAT officers for extra patrols, the precinct’s Anti-Crime Team, and the full-time bicycle squad, “able to patrol our hot-spot areas.”
One bright spot: Non-residential burglaries are down 2 percent – “we’re arresting a ton of people out there.”
No other stats were mentioned as attendees jumped right to community Q & A:
Attendee question: “Is there any way the limit can be raised on what can be reported online?” She said it was a major hassle to report the theft of a boat motor. Capt. Davis said he knows there’s a lot of frustration with the online system; he advised having an officer come out. “We tried that,” she said. He said he’ll bring up the suggestion of raising the limit to department-wide decisionmakers. Operations Lt. Ron Smith also pointed out that there’s a lag in police receiving the information that’s reported online – they might miss trends, geographic or types of targets, etc., if it only comes in via the online system.
“Well, then I suggest upgrading the system,” the attendee said. Lt. Smith said they had long been recommending that.
Next question: An attendee said her neighborhood had a “disconcerting” issue and brought it to the precinct’s attention, and she was thankful that they then had “policemen coming by almost daily” and “reassuring” the neighborhood as a result. She added that the issue involved squatters in an abandoned house, and “the needles just got removed yesterday – how many times can somebody shoot up in one day?” She suggested a community committee of some sort be formed. Capt. Davis advised speaking to local City Councilmember Lisa Herbold; the attendee said she had tried, but didn’t get anywhere: “She’s heard from us.”
Another person from that neighborhood said that the house in question (on SW Trenton) was cleaned up much more quickly than previous nuisance houses (bringing up the infamous now-demolished three-times-burned house in South Delridge) and he wondered what was the difference.
Capt. Davis said that the precinct was trying to catalog every vacant home in the area so they can track them, know who’s responsible for them, talk with the Department of Construction and Inspections about where their enforcement efforts are at, etc. And sometimes, Lt. Smith said, all it takes it a change of ownership for nuisance properties to suddenly get cleaned up. (A notorious house at 36th and Morgan was mentioned; county records show it was sold last month. Also, a nuisance house in South Park – also part of the precinct jurisdiction – was “abated” today, with more planned, and we’ll have coverage of that later.)
Next question: Any update on the deadly May 23rd shooting at Alki?
Ongoing investigation, said Capt. Davis. He also acknowledged the “smattering of shots-fired incidents” in West Seattle so far this year, and said they are “tracking these individuals down” including those who live outside the city.
Then: One attendee said he found it “disconcerting” to see heavily armed officers on Alki, and found it “hard to imagine any situation being improved” with that kind of weaponry. He thought the guns were automatic; Capt. Davis said the officers are armed with semi-automatic rifles and heavily trained. “These individuals go through a battery of tests, training, if they don’t qualify with that thing, and have an aptitude … then they can’t carry it.” He said he hasn’t seen “accidental discharges” or anything else “to cause harm to the community. If there is, I’d like to know about it.”
Also: What about police hiring, and attrition? Capt. Davis acknowledged the large number of retirements, but there’s no way around that – some have been on the force for 40 years. He said SPD is doing its best to capitalize on “lateral hires,” officers from other police departments. He said the precinct has a few more officers and “hopefully I’ll get more,” which would mean that they can “do more.” He touted the aforementioned bicycle squad, “and they’re doing a fantastic job, going out there and making their presence known.”
Next concern: Mail and package theft. Capt. Davis mentioned something we’d heard earlier in the year – police have pulled a few stings following delivery trucks and arresting theft suspects who were doing the same things.
Following that: A Beach Drive resident said, “I have an idea how you could raise some more money for the Police Department – start writing some speeding tickets on Beach Drive.” Capt. Davis said they’ve set up a few stings that netted people “doing some funny things with their cars,” and also resulted in arrests and vehicle impounds. As a result of this, the troublemakers went to some other part of the city last weekend, he said. The precinct has been granted some overtime dollars to keep tackling this problem.
ALL ABOUT GANGS: Lt. Marc Garth Green, who’s in charge of the Gang Unit and several other units including Robbery, gave what was labeled at the start of his slide deck as the “basic gang presentation.”
First, definition of “what is a gang” – any organization, association or group of three or more persons who commit criminal acts for the betterment of the group.
“Yes, we do have gangs in the city of Seattle. … They’re not the gangs of Chicago, New York, or LA. They’re not even the gangs we had in the ’80s in Seattle … we don’t see the traditional gangs, like the movie ‘Colors’ …” They try to figure out which gangs are active, who their members are, who their associates are.
What makes someone a gang member? Association, gang tattoos, involvement in a gang crime.
How did Seattle gangs start? “They really blew up in the ’80s … they were going long before that in (other cities) … when we saw the crack explosion, that’s when we really saw it … and the fights between the gangs were over drug turf. Not necessarily the case today at all.
Where did they start? Mostly in the East Precinct, “low-income housing complexes and neighborhoods became prime real estate for gang territory.” In the late ’80s, “we went from five shootings a month in the spring and summer of ’88 to as many as 52 in December of the same year. … Right now we’re seeing a little bit of an increase going on as well.”
The Gang Unit went up to 32 detectives – and went down to five “when we decided there were no gangs in Seattle – and now we’re back up to 15.”
In summer of 2006, gang detectives started noting “a disturbing pattern of shootings attributed to gangs in two neighborhoods.”
Where are the gangs? Historically divided along racial and geographic lines. Right now “they’re actually all over in Seattle … Seattle’s an interesting place for gang ties” because the geographic lines are blurred, people who live in one neighborhood might go to visit a relative in another, and they’re left alone on a “family pass.” In all “a lot of the gangs have changed, it’s not just drugs on the street necessarily” – one gang does credit-card fraud, another gang does pharmacy robberies, and sometimes they roam far and wide – one local was arrested recently in Ohio for credit-card fraud. Also, package theft, prostitution,
Most gang activity is south of Seattle, he said, “but we’re still having our fair share of issues and shootings.” And some particular houses – like one in South Park – “is where the kids hang out at,” which means even when “the kids” are gone, other gangs come by because they know the address.
He showed a map pointing to gangs’ turf – including one in northeastern West Seattle and another an area of White Center/North Burien. “We continually try to hammer away at these … the unfortunate thing is that many are juveniles and they have pretty much a revolving door,” being let out of custody not long after being arrested, even on repeat arrests. “Sometimes in court issues, sometimes it’s the different laws, but we’re always trying to get them. … A lot of (what’s done) in Seattle is not done by people who live in Seattle.” There was a Tacoma arrest the night before, he said, related to the recent car-to-car gunfire in Columbia City.
Gang shootings’ motives “often start with something so silly,” the lieutenant said. One started with a game of dice between two people, “and then it goes on where people believe they step up and represent,” and more than half a dozen shootings resulted.
“We have all types of victims,” he said, showing photos of a little girl who was killed when someone was targeting her dad; another was a gang member; another was the 23rd/Cherry crossfire victim, just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
How do you recognize gang members? “No one answer to it,” the lieutenant said. There are some clothing and accessories cues, “but not as much as there used to (be).”
What’s gang graffiti? There are problems in some communities – White Center was mentioned – but otherwise it only represents about 20 percent of the U.S. graffiti-vandalism problem. Gang graffiti is generally “one color and it’s not vibrant – done with spray cans and not as ornate – if it’s bubble letters and somebody’s name and filled in, that’s generally not going to be gang graffiti.” Gang graffiti often includes numbers. Do report to police if you see what you think is gang graffiti – call 911, or send photos in online, because that might give police a clue to where gangs are popping up. He mentioned later that the graffiti reports will get routed to the department’s graffiti detective.
What about gang tattoos? You’d see the names spelled out, he said.
What the detectives are seeing on the street: The increase in shootings … “we’ve seen a huge increase in semi-automatic rifles being used by gangs, AK-47s, AR-15s … we’ve taken eight off the street in the last couple months …” They’re working with an ATF task force to match evidence to shootings and specific weapons, and, he later said, SPD has “a tremendous relationship” with federal agencies, including the FBI. “The other thing we’re seeing – dramatic increase in the number of rounds fired.” Used to be a few – the Columbia City shooting was 33. Another shooting in the area was more than 40. “The kids have extended magazines now, 30 to 50 rounds …” the Columbia City suspect had a “50-round drum magazine attached to his pistol.” The number of people being hit is very low, but the danger is high.
“Do we have any kind of acoustic gunshot location system like they have in LA?” asked an attendee.
“We’d like to – but it’s held up in the City Council,” said the lieutenant, mentioning privacy and other concerns. “I’m still hopeful we’ll get it … It would be an aid to us.” He added that cities using it suddenly see a rise in the number of shootings because it captures them all, some that previously would go unreported.
Many of the guns in use are stolen, the lieutenant said, so if you have firearms, don’t leave them in your car or somewhere else they’re likely to get stolen. He told the story of someone who went downtown, took a gun because he was worried about safety, left it in his car in a backpack, spotted someone breaking into his car and stealing it, and then having the thief point it at him (but not firing) when confronted.
The Gang Unit has a regional meeting with multiple agencies every other week “where we talk about all these gangs.”
What are the size of these groups? asked WSCPC president Richard Miller. At least 1,500 on any given day. But less than five percent are the violent ones “who are actually out there shooting,” said the Lt. Nonetheless, the damage they can do is immeasurable – he mentioned that the murder of Donnie Chin a few years back is believed to have involved two gangs shooting at each other, yet to date, no one has come forward to help them break the case.
NIGHT OUT: Crime Prevention Coordinator Jennifer Burbridge reminded everyone that Night Out is coming up August 1st and you can register your block party – last year, the Southwest Precinct (West Seattle/South Park) had 245 registered block parties.
NEXT MEETING: The WSCPC, which is a volunteer community group, does not meet in July or August; look for the next meeting on the third Tuesday in September.