City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda was the spotlight guest at this month’s West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meeting. Before the Q&A with her, WSBWCN heard the local crime/safety update:
CAPTAIN’S UPDATE: Southwest Precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis said they’re working on strategy for the warmer months and also planning a variety of “emphasis” enforcement focuses. Crime dropped during the recent snow, he noted. “Rogue street robberies” centered on cell-phone thefts continue to be an issue but they’ve identified suspects and are “developing the probable cause” to make arrests.
Crimes against persons are currently down 12% and property crimes are down 29%, with overall SW Precinct crime down 28%. They check stats/trends up to three times a week to stay atop where things are going.
Questions: WSBWCN co-founder Deb Greer asked about a remark Navigation Team Sgt. Eric Zerr made last week at the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting, that RV-related issues were being largely delegated to precincts’ Community Police Teams. Capt. Davis clarified that wasn’t settled yet. He was also asked whether SPD would separate consideration of “street people” vs. “homeless,” and the captain made it clear that much of their work is “service-oriented” and that “it’s not a crime to be homeless,” so their enforcement focus is on people – whatever their housing status – who are breaking the law.
COUNCILMEMBER TERESA MOSQUEDA: She is one of two at-large councilmembers and was invited primarily to discuss homelessness, though the discussion ranged to other topics. Mosqueda detailed some local cred, saying she had worked for South Park-headquartered Sea Mar Community Health Centers early in her career, so “everything I’ve done is through this health lens.”
She chairs the Housing, Health, Energy, & Workers’ Rights Committee. 1,000 people are moving here every week, but “we have not built the housing we need,” she said – explaining that she wasn’t just referring to low-income housing, but also middle-income housing. She says the city shouldn’t be surprised by its growth, but should have made changes in public policy, and investments in public infrastructure, much sooner. “We could have acted a lot sooner …and gotten some funding in hand,” she lamented. Back to the topic of homelessness, she talked about the “housing first” concept – getting people into housing so they can accept services and get their lives back in order. But in November, for example, there are only three shelter beds available at night. “There’s nowhere to navigate people to right now … we have simply not built the infrastructure, let alone” the housing people need to exit shelters. “If you’re in a shelter, you’re still homeless.”
One woman spoke of talking to people on the street and finding them unwilling to seek/accept services. Mosqueda said there tends to be less resistance when they’re referring people to enhanced shelter. She also referred to a newly released auditor’s report. And she mentioned another report that quoted people as saying they didn’t want to go into shelters because they’re being assaulted. It often takes seven contacts by the Navigation Team to get someone to accept shelter. (Sgt. Zerr had spoken last week about that, too.)
One attendee asked about non-enhanced shelters, in which people have to leave in the morning and aren’t allowed back in until night. Even the extra shelter space made available at City Hall works that way. Mosqueda also spoke about the difficulty of finding housing even for people who have Section 8 vouchers. She also spoke of the turnover in the human-services field, often because of low pay.
Another attendee told Mosqueda that the city has lost affordable housing in places such as High Point and Yesler Terrace, and suggested there should be housing at Magnuson Park as well as areas such as Magnolia. Mosqueda mentioned a relatively recent city ordinance that prioritizes building affordable housing on surplus public land. “We are not going to build our way out of this, even with the tools and the processes we have now.” That brought her to the attendee’s point of using old city buildings for housing, and Mosqueda mentioned the Fort Lawton process that’s under way.
Another attendee brought up the cost of building new housing in the city. “Why don’t you guys look at streamlining that?” he said, mentioning “nitpicky” rules. He also suggested the city is spending too much money on bicycling infrastructure, calling it “bicycle insanity.” The attendee also brought up the need for more police officers. Mosqueda agreed with that and mentioned the recent contract agreement as well as the $15,000 bonuses under consideration for lateral recruits. She also noted that she is “1 of 9 council members” and took issue with the attendee’s contention that city government was “treating police with disrespect.” She countered that she has spoken in council chambers about support for police, and, as the vice chair of the committee focused on public safety, she said they are studying what other cities are doing. One thing they are hearing, she said, is that officers want to take their cars home at night. Back to the permitting issues, she said she’s “on the same page” – she is interested in “partnering with people on these incredibly cumbersome fees” among other things.
Capt. Davis then addressed the concern about police retention, saying “not everybody can do this job” and mentioned there’s a lot of “political” navigating to do, along with the fact s] the department is still under federal scrutiny. But he contended SPD’s become a “much better department” because of that scrutiny. He said they expected to be held accountable.
The Q&A then bounced back to the topic of homelessness: One attendee asked Mosqueda to define it. King County has more than 12,000 people who are homeless, she said, under the definition that they don’t have a permanent roof over their head – they could be living in a vehicle, they could be couch-surfing, or sleeping on the street. She said she had been in SODO earlier in the day talking with businesspeople there about their concerns. Mosqueda also talked about what other cities are doing, such as Los Angeles, which she said has 50,000 people who are homeless and is using large tents, with comprehensive services, to make a dent in that. She said that would ‘break her heart to even (have to) offer that,” but something has to be done. She also said it’s “embarrassing” that homelessness here increased while it has decreased in other cities such as L.A. and New York.
Another attendee talked about young people who are on the street whose parents wish they were back home. “What is it that’s so attractive about living on the street?” she asked, saying she never hears those homeless youth discussed. Mosqueda replied that drugs are one possible cause: “The opioid crisis has affected so many families,” and she is interested in what more can be done to prevent addiction.
The discussion ended there because she had to leave at that point. Capt. Davis was subsequently asked about the attendee’s earlier contention that the City Council wasn’t supporting police. He replied diplomatically that they were a “team,” while acknowledging that their working relationship was not “stellar,” but, he stressed. they’re talking. Ultimately, he said a short time later, SPD needs more people, and that’s the bottom line. He also said, “If you guys only hear one thing from me for the rest of the year – it’s that the citizens of Seattle have the ultimate power.” And he also acknowledged that police-retention challenges are the result of a variety of things “catching up,” including politics – “some of it is perception, some of it is reality. … We have our contract. DOJ [the federal supervision] is on the way out. We (are working on) our recruiting. We have our lobbyists – the chief of police – pounding on the mayor’s desk, saying ‘we need more, more, more’ … We are successfully navigating out of the doldrums, but it’s a slow process.”
Other notes from the WSBWCN meeting:
IF YOU HAVE PROBLEMS: Find It Fix It has a “guaranteed turnaround time,” the precinct’s Crime Prevention Coordinator Jennifer Danner pointed out, in recommending its use to report a variety of problems.
MICROCOMMUNITY POLICING PLAN: As he had mentioned at another recent meeting, precinct operations commander Lt. Steve Strand noted that these plans will be updated soon and they’re checking with community leaders to find out about current neighborhood concerns.
KEEPING YOUR KIDS SAFE FROM GUNS: In the meeting’s early attendee-self-intro phase, a rep of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America mentioned that you can contact them for a short training video.
COP-I-CON: Danner mentioned the new date for this upcoming event that’s your chance to learn about SPD, being held (May 18, rescheduled from a date earlier this month because of the snow) as well as bouncy houses and food.
The West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meets at 6:30 pm fourth Tuesdays most months at the SW Precinct (2300 SW Webster).