By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
For the fourth time in two weeks, the big headline in a community-meeting update from Southwest Precinct police leadership was the Myers Way east-side cleanup – now under way.
This time, the update was at the first West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meeting since the group’s summer hiatus (most community groups skip at least a month of meetings in the summer). The meeting also included a briefing on Mental Health First Aid training. But first:
POLICE BRIEFING: Precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis said they’re trying to “not spend a lot of time reintroducing ourselves to old problems … there’s a lot of frustration with problems that pop up over and over again.” He said RVs and encampments are a recurring concern and insisted “we go after them very vigorously until we get them gone.” He said they have been “dismantling that monstrosity,” referring to the illegal encampment on Myers Way where a major city-led cleanup is in its second day – we went by again this afternoon and saw 29 city vehicles large and small, including SPD’s Mobile Precinct.
Before the cleanup, Capt. Davis said, police had gone into the greenbelt and seen a lot of untraceable but almost certainly stolen items, and a “myriad” of other “crime issues,” with “dump truck after dump truck, loaded” now coming out of the woods. (Among other items being taken out, Davis mentioned “hundreds of propane tanks.”) The displaced people have to go somewhere though, he said, so that brings in the issue of abandoned properties and the Community Police Team. “West Seattle cannot afford to have another setup like that Myers Way encampment … we’re working very vigorously trying to not have that happen.”
As for overall crime stats in West Seattle, he said property crimes overall are up about 5 percent. “That’s too high for me,” he said, especially following last year, which concluded with an overall decline. “We’re still fighting with those numbers.” The “emphasis patrols” that focused on Alki over the summer have now moved on to issues elsewhere, including auto theft and burglary. And before long it will be time for the holiday emphasis on fighting theft. They’re watching repeat offenders, too, and reminding community members to please call 911 if something’s in progress: “Don’t wait until the next day.”
When Capt. Davis invited questions, the discussion went right back to people living outdoors. First question: What about the RVs on Harbor Avenue? We photographed a parking-enforcement officer in the area today, after hearing via the scanner that he would be “citing” RVs there:
“There are certain rules we have to abide by,” began Davis. “It’s kind of like a revolving door for us – we chase them, they leave, they come back, we start the process all over again. Right now we’re trying to get certain (policies) changed – trying to appeal to SDOT to get certain zoning changed -” he said they’re pushing that through SPD leadership. “We’re successful in getting them gone but … then they come back and start all over again.” What happens if someone refuses services? Davis was asked. The Navigation Team, comprised of police and other resources, all have to be involved – but they’re serving the whole city, he pointed out. Myers Way, however, had issues Davis said he had seen that just couldn’t go on any longer. He said it took meetings with the chief and city councilmembers to “get the ball rolling” on Myers Way. They are hopeful of preventing a “super encampment” from springing up elsewhere, so if people see something new starting, “let us know.”
The city’s resources don’t seem to be well-coordinated, observed one attendee. The police acknowledged that. But the Myers Way cleanup, which Davis likened to a “military operation,” is well-coordinated and perhaps a sign of improvement to come, he said.
The marijuana plants we showed in our cleanup coverage Monday were a “mobile marijuana operation” – 25 plants on a trailer that was being pulled down the street – and resulted in an arrest, Operations Lt. Steve Strand added. The encampment “was getting bigger and bigger,” he said, but warned that those displaced “are looking for where to go next.”
Another person brought up Camp Second Chance – the city-sanctioned encampment on the other side of Myers Way – as an example of what “should be encouraged,” with its drug/alcohol-free rules.
Then, the featured guest:
MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID: Sue Wyder is coordinating Mental Health First Aid training for King County. She decried the stigma that continues to surround mental illness – it can be treated, you can recover. 1 in 5 people suffer from a mental illness in the US in any given year – not everyone is aware, though, and might just shrug it off. Only 41 percent of those with mental illness seek treatment. Half of all mental disorders begin by age 14, three-quarters by age 24. So what’s important is to identify, understand, and respond to signs of addiction and mental illness – and that’s what Mental Health First Aid is about.
It originated in Australia, so she had a koala bear as a prop. Its name is “ALGEE” – the acronym for a Mental Health First Aid action plan – assess for risk of suicide or harm, listen nonjudgmentally, give reassurance and information, encourage appropriate professional help, encourage self-help and offer support strategies.
It’s “the initial help offered to a person developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a mental-health crisis.” You don’t diagnose the problem – you’re not a doctor – but you might call someone to help, stay with a person in crisis until they can get professional help, etc. In MHFA classes you’ll learn about risk factors and more. Deploy ALGEE. Sometimes people “just want to talk” – so listening is one of the most important things you can do.
The training includes two hours on understanding depression and anxiety, including some “really great videos.” And they talk about suicide – a “really hard thing to talk about,” but vital, said Wyder – you have to directly ask someone, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
They also talk about opioids, how to administer Narcan, and more.
Early intervention is really helpful, and this is another way that MHFA comes in.
Even Michelle Obama has touted MHFA, after taking a class, Wyder said. “That’s what we’re all here for … to help each other.”
P.S. A Mental Health First Aid training session is coming up in West Seattle soon, as mentioned here last month – check to see if there’s still room!
CITY ATTORNEY PRECINCT LIAISON: Toward the meeting’s start WSBWCN’s leaders Deb Greer and Karen Berge asked precinct liaison Joe Everett to give the group a refresher of what he does. Everett explained that he’s a liaison between the city and the community – a resource for you as well as for SPD. “I try to get as creative as possible in solving problems.” Here’s more on what precinct liaisons do, and how to reach him.
The West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meets fourth Tuesdays most months, 6:30 pm at the Southwest Precinct.