By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Key Southwest Precinct leadership outlined the “Alki summer-emphasis plan” to a roomful of residents last night.
Along with precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis and Lt. Steve Strand (soon to be the precinct’s second-in-command), Community Police Team officers were there, as were the precinct’s crime prevention coordinator Jennifer Danner and City Attorney’s Office precinct liaison Joe Everett.
This was held outside the usual schedule of community meetings, both at the precinct and in neighborhoods where SPD reps often are in attendance to provide crime-trend briefings; City Councilmember Lisa Herbold noted the meeting in her update last weekend on new efforts to facilitate cracking down on vehicle noise, which passed a council vote today (more on that later in this report).
Capt. Davis said the precinct has a comprehensive plan with a “couple components” added this year. “We’ve heard loud and clear from a lot of our community members” about problems including noise and other “quality-of-life issues.”
He said the Alki “summer-emphasis plan” has two main components:
*Foot beat and bicycle officers
*”A very robust traffic component” (new this year) – “individual (officers) that are not tied to 911 calls – they are strictly there to enforce traffic.”
Capt. Davis added, “We pretty much know where a lot of the bad behaviors tend to emanate from” – Beach Drive or Don Armeni Boat Ramp, for example. So they have partnered with the Parks Department. They’re working on a gate for Don Armeni so officers have the option “to shut that off” if they feel that’s merited. “We’re going to try that strategy for this year as well.”
As for traffic enforcement, “our officers have handed out a lot of tickets.” He sought to ensure people understood that there’s no dedicated Traffic Unit for the Southwest Precinct – so this took a request for the citywide squad to commit motorcycle officers’ presence to Alki.
He acknowledged that this coming weekend’s forecast warm weather “will be a test.” He said the plan can “expand and retract as need be” and if community members don’t feel it’s working, contact the precinct. They do have to budget judiciously “so we have enough resources to conduct this through the summer.”
One Beach Drive resident was first in Q&A. Her neighborhood is where car groups that get kicked out of Don Armeni tend to move, so when that happens, she hopes an officer can be notified to move over there. Capt. Davis acknowledged that “displacement” happens. He said last year a sergeant made sure that the worst offenders got cited – some even by mail, and some resulted in their vehicles being impounded. But he also said they will not pursue somebody (lights and sirens) if they speed away – the risk isn’t worth it. “We’re going to take care of that Beach Drive area, we know it’s a hot spot.”
More than 25 people were in attendance by then, including Jesse Robbins, who has been pitching a “technological solution” to noise enforcement. He brought it up at the meeting and said he had recently demonstrated it for Councilmember Herbold (who had wasn’t in attendance – assistant Newell Aldrich was). He said they hope to do something this summer. Asked for details on his technology, he said he still couldn’t say much except that certain vehicles could “trigger” it and send data to the police department for potential enforcement.
Next Q&A was about the laws and modified muffling equipment. Capt. Davis said it’s going to be the 75-foot rule whether it’s original equipment or not. The resident acknowledged that police staffing is spread so thin, it’s hard to see all this as a priority, so when might there be more officers? The captain said it’s not just budget issues, it’s a regional shortage, training issues, and other unspecified challenges that have helped keep staffing down.
Aldrich noted that Herbold had voted in favor of increasing SPD staffing by 100+ officers.
Another attendee asked about the noise-enforcement legislation that Herbold was going to introduce at today’s City Council committee meeting. (You can read the text here.) The committee discussion and vote are here, starting at 1:57:
Just before the meeting ended, the committee unanimously passed the proposal, which goes on to the full council next Monday.
Back to last night’s Q&A:
A Beach Drive resident said that a bicycle officer was in his neighborhood today – but too early. An hour before sunset might be a good time to start. “One thing I have to preface – we’re running our emphasis Friday, Saturday, Sunday,” though they hope to expand. They’ve pushed the emphasis hours to try to be there later but their big push is for more help.
Another Alki resident wondered about planning ahead based on the forecast – “if it’s a nice warm even Thursday night, it can get intense.”
Capt. Davis said they’re “trying to build in” extra resources when they know a stretch of warm weather is coming. “Some of those resources might be covert – you might not even know we’re there.” And he said if a particular night is a “bust,” they’ll pull back.
What about the anti-cruising ordinance? Capt. Davis said, “That hasn’t been used in a while.” He said the challenge can be in court – and it can be disheartening to get “shot down in court.” The ordinance “had some issues with it,” he said, and he has compared notes with commanders outside the city/state who had similar issues. So they’re looking at other “innovative” ways to accomplish the same thing without raising “issues of constitutionality” by just randomly pulling people over. They have high hopes for the new noise ordinance instead, for example.
What about photo radar? “A lot of our community members come unglued when you start talking about the photo surveillance issue,” Capt. Davis noted, bringing up the now-removed Homeland Security-funded cameras controversy. City-attorney liaison Everett also pointed out that school zones, stop signs, red lights, and school buses were the only authorized ways to use automated cameras for tickets in our state currently.
Next question: What about speed bumps on Alki? (Beach Drive already has them; “they’re worthless,” came a few calls from around the room.)
Another person recalled the mobile precinct that she used to see on Alki and the deterrent effect it had. (She apparently hasn’t seen the mobile precinct that has spent a fair amount of time there – see our photo atop this story.) She suggested it spend some time on Beach Drive.
What about just placing a police car somewhere, even unstaffed? one woman wondered. Capt. Davis said seeking additional officers are what they’re focusing on.
Could noise be something that comes up in emissions tests? wondered one attendee. Everett said that’s an “interesting idea” but would likely have to be codified in state law. Aldrich said that the city creates a legislative agenda and something like that could be considered.
A Beach Drive resident wondered what the change would be in the new noise ordinance. “The way the noise code is written (now), there are different standards, and it’s a bit confusing,” Aldrich explained, “with vehicle noise standards in decibels.” This adds the 75-foot “can be heard by a person of normal hearing” standard for vehicle noise, making enforcement easier, he said.
That led to side comments about danger being a concern as well as noise. “It’s a wonder no one’s been hurt or killed,” said one man.
Capt. Davis said the decibel equipment needed special tuning and training – so changing the standard should facilitate enforcement.
Next question: What about drag racing? Late at night? Capt. Davis said he’d like to hear what time it is when residents hear that happening – “and we’ll do whatever we need to do to address that.” Sometimes it’s as late as 3, 4 in the morning, attendees said. Capt. Davis said they have to be judicious about setting up in anticipation and spending resources they then can’t use elsewhere.
“Would you be interested in seeing security-camera video?” one man asked. “Yes,” Capt. Davis replied.
Next person was concerned that 75 feet for noise wouldn’t do much good “because most of us are less than 75 feet.” It’s an officer’s call, SPD explained.
After that, a concern was raised about the all-day “steady line of traffic” and resulting fumes. “Bumper to bumper for hours at a time … if we have an emergency, we might as well drop dead.”
Capt. Davis said he empathized, as his officers have trouble getting through that too. But enforcement-wise, that’s more an engineering issue for SDOT, he said.
A young attendee who lives on Beach Drive also offered to show Capt. Davis video of “cars making really loud noise, with their license plates.”
Then the Harbor Avenue SW RV parking came up. The attendee said he realized that some were towed last week, but some have come back. “It’s not just the vehicles, it’s the garbage, it’s an eyesore.” He hoped SPD would enforce the 72-hour law. “Once you start ticketing that, they’ll realize they have to move.”
Capt. Davis acknowledged the concerns but said that’s “a whole different area of discussion.” He said they have worked to keep the RVs out of residential areas, “but there’s more and more of them.” He also noted that the Navigation Team, operating citywide, has just eight officers. He noted Officer Todd Wiebke‘s presence – the precinct’s RV point person (among other responsibilities). But, Davis pointed out, 72 hours (for parking without moving) is 72 hours, and sometimes that means going around the corner and coming back. However, “we’re going to work the problem.” The attendee pressed the issue – “a pipe, needles” were among what’s turned up on the Alki Trail.
Robert Sowers of Parks also said they’re working on the RV issue too, with a “written protocol that started a couple months ago” and that Seattle Public Utilities follows up on the trash. (More on the policy change here.)
A resident said he’s requested that 1900 to 3000 Harbor Avenue be made a “no parking 11 pm-5 am” zone and it’s “moved to committee.” (We’re following up with SDOT on this.)
Another attendee wondered about calling 911 as opposed to calling the non-emergency line. “When you call dispatch, they will be very short with you, they will be very abrupt with you, they need to get you focusd and to the point.” License plates, descriptions, clearly providing information on what’s happening. Another officer who joined the meeting noted that they will ask you if you want contact or not, and if you say no, you are saying you don’t want to participate in the investigation, so, he advised, always say you want contact.
What do you need to say if you are calling 911 from a cell phone that maybe even has a different area code? Always say where you’re at.
Parting words from the captain: “We’re going to work very hard to nip a lot of your issues in the bud … we are committed.”
“We appreciate you guys a lot,” an attendee said in response.
Applause ensued, and the meeting ended shortly thereafter, with Capt. Davis thanking attendees for their partnership.