By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
For the first time in three months, the West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network reconvened at the Southwest Precinct last night – and most of the meeting could be summarized as the multiple faces of the opioid crisis:
First, a crime update from local police, who say much of the area’s property crime is tied to drugs, and people trying to get money for them; second, an emotion-stirring presentation from people who have been caught up in the crisis, mostly through family members, some of whom have lost their lives to it.
The two-dozen-plus attendees, in around-the-room introductions, listed neighborhoods all around this area, from Beach Drive to Top Hat.
POLICE BRIEFING: First up, Southwest Precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis talked about property crime, still our area’s most pervasive crime problem.
Last year’s crime rate started off “rather high in our percentages” but the year ended up down eight percent from the year before, he said, with this precinct reporting the “lowest stats for the entire city” in property crime. And he recapped how crime spikes bring proactive analysis and strategies such as looking at “who’s in and who’s out of jail” among the repeat-offender ranks. He also said they “deal with the areas (repeat offenders) like to frequent” such as vacant houses; they use the trespass program to work with the owners of those houses and cut through red tape that can be a hindrance in clearing apparent squatters. Yes, unsheltered people are involved in some crime, but “it’s not against the law to be homeless,” he reminded attendees. “If they are committing crimes, we will deal with that.”
Without identifying the defendant, he mentioned someone who had been “the scourge of the neighborhood” and once police could link him to multiple crimes, they “presented the case to the prosecutor,” and “he is now behind bars.” Neighbors’ tips made a big difference. (We are working on a story about what we believe is the case to which he was referring.) Capt. Davis also noted the arrest of two suspects earlier in the evening, found to have theft tools on them. He stressed the importance of getting repeat offenders off the street – because they can be responsible for dozens of crimes; he mentioned the arrest of a suspect who admitted to “15 to 20 auto thefts in a night.” SPD crime-analysis experts are also communicating with their counterparts in other jurisdictions, he said.
In Q&A, an attendee asked about police’s traffic rerouting decisions, mentioning trouble in the 30th/Brandon vicinity during the snowy Christmastime weather, and family members getting detoured to 29th on the recommendation of police, though that was even worse. Capt. Davis said the snow-and-ice-route plan comes from SDOT each year, but he said he would look into where the breakdown happened. Operations Lt. Ron Smith also suggested calling the precinct if there’s a dangerous road that’s not blocked off.
Then, the guests:
NOT ONE MORE: President Ed Peterson from the Seattle chapter of Not One More opened by saying “we are all normal people, just like you … affected by the heroin epidemic.” He’s from Tacoma; he brought families from West Seattle and Brier. “Our goal is to try to make a difference.” Peterson said that while the crime related to the epidemic is bad – “if we can get them some treatment,” there’s hope. His group speaks of hope, and recovery, and wants to “educate our communities.” Among those with him, Kim Chilcott, who lost her son Thad at 22, and members of her family.
An educational video showed the ways that teens can be susceptible to addiction – and becomes a vicious cycle. It can’t just ruin lives – it can end them. Part of it can be the stress that youth deal with – helping them cope, listening to them, is vital. “Don’t assume they can self-correct.” And for the teens – they need to understand that “getting help is a strength,” not a weakness.
Another video told a family’s story, opening with a mother recalling the agony of chooing what to inscribe on her son’s headstone. She also talked of wishing that there had been a place for her son to use safely, to be told he was worthwhile, to get social services.
Peterson said that while this is a better place to get help than many areas of the country, 1,100 people in our state are dying each year – about 360 in King County. “It happens all the time, and we just want to get the word out, so that people (get help) younger.” He wanted to be sure the crowd, largely middle-aged-and-older adults, understood that this is a different world from the one in which they grew up. Reaching people younger will help them make better choices.
What can you look for to get a hint if anyone in your family is involved? Peterson had a slide about what to watch for, and what you can do – a user might have a kit including a “burner, holder, cotton, band, syringe.” (Later, aluminum foil was mentioned too, and soda cans, all used for cooking drugs.) He brought a sharps container and said that while he used to think he didn’t want to see that in a public restroom – it’s better than to just have the needles tossed in a trash can into which some unsuspecting child might stick a hand. He said gently that they hope people will get over their discomfort with such things as sharps containers and needle exchanges, in the interest of saving lives.
“If you ever see someone who has overdosed – do not be afraid to wake them up, to nudge them.” He also talked about Narcan, the overdose antidote that some emergency personnel – including police – carry. It works fast, though some users might have so much opiate in their system, two doses might be required. And yes, it’s available to the public to carry. “We want to be sure that (users) are alive” for that opportunity when they might get, and accept, help. Peterson talked about his son who is in active recovery with the help of two programs, including a drug that keeps him off opioids.
What they want you to push for: “Get social and behavioral skills type programs in primary and middle schools … When they get to high school, it’s too late.” Other points: Always have hope. Remove barriers (treatment needs to be readily available). Recovery is a battle that addicts fight each and every day. No single treatment is appropriate for everyone. Help needs to be readily available.
Kim spoke of losing her son to a heroin overdose four years ago. (The photo at right is from the obituary published here on WSB.) Along with her family, “you as a community lost him.” He had only been using for six to seven months, she said, and he had gotten help – then relapsed, and died. She sought out Not One More and started the local chapter. She handed it to new leadership after a few years.
Then she introduced her daughter, who spoke about her brother Thad – for the first time, in public, she said.
She said she had read about losing a sibling – “you’re losing your past, your present, and your future.” She told attendees who her brother was – she talked about how “super pumped” she was at almost 5 years old, to become a big sister. They had younger siblings eventually, and Thad loved being a big brother. They lost a 14-year-old cousin to an overdose when Thad was 12 – and she saw that he was at risk. She asked Thad to promise not to touch “the hard stuff,” ever. He promised, she said. He was sensitive and emotional; everything was “more raw” for him. “He carried a deep sort of pain with him throughout his life, but had so much love in his heart.” School was a particular trouble spot. But he had a girlfriend from middle school into high school and beyond – they broke up when he was 20, “and that’s when things got tough.”
She also talked about the difficulty of having an addict in the family and not knowing where to get information – what to do, where to go. Then one day, he showed up at home, in trouble, and they did everything they could to get him help. “You can do everything they tell you to do … and you can still end up on the losing end of things, with your loved one. … My brother was not a junkie, he was not a criminal … he was a beautiful boy.” There are still days after 4 1/2 years when the idea that her brother is gone “makes no sense.”
She declares, “We can do better” – and that includes changing our views, the way we speak, about those struggling with addiction. And she asked everyone to think about those in their lives who may be in pain and not getting enough attention, encouragement, love.
One more speaker: A 31-year-old survivor of addiction. He said “there’s such a negative stigma” with drug addiction, that someone like him – a straight-A student – “I truly believe that any addict, even the ones committing crimes, start out as genuinely good people, good souls, and things happen, we make choices along the way … our paths take us down a dark road. I’m not a bad person, I’ve done bad things, I’ve stolen from my family … I have amends to make.” He started off hooked on Oxycodone and moved to heroin. He has been clean for 2 years and 9 months. “What I want people to understand is that we are sick people and we need help.”
How did you get involved in it? asked an attendee. He said the word disease breaks down to dis- and -ease, and he never felt comfortable in his own skin.
Peterson mentioned they’ll be advocating at the state Legislature this week. He challenged attendees to demand that schools deal with suicide, drug addiction, to try to turn the tide.
Deal with the root of the issue, not just the symptom (crime), Thad’s dad Howard Chilcott urged. “To solve the real problem, we have to address that.”
Education about drugs isn’t all that’s needed. “It’s about coping,” they stressed. That included in rehab, Peterson mentioned while answering a question about rehab programs.
Recovery Help Line, 866-789-1511 – will reach a live person, 24/7
Also at the meeting, which is always open to everyone, whether you’re part of a Block Watch or not:
ANNOUNCEMENTS: WSBWCN co-founders Karen Berge and Deb Greer also are involved with West Seattle Be Prepared, and in light of the big Alaska earthquake earlier in the day, reminded everyone of resources including the WS Emergency Communication Hubs and Alert Seattle … Laura Jenkins from the Department of Neighborhoods brought flyers for Neighbor Day (February 10th) and Your Voice/Your Choice grant ideas (due in early February).
The West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meets most fourth Tuesdays, 6:30 pm, Southwest Precinct – watch this website for updates.