By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Crime concerns sparked a bigger turnout than usual at this month’s Highland Park Action Committee meeting, including some who identified themselves in around-the-room intros as first-time attendees, some from South Delridge and White Center, as well as HP residents.
Q&A WITH POLICE: Southwest Precinct operations commander Lt. Steve Strand briefed the group. Since the year’s start, HP is down double digits in many categories, but property crimes – primarily thefts and burglaries – are up. He said recent arrests included burglary suspects who might be linked to multiple crimes, including a carjacking at the 35th/Barton 7-11. He reminded attendees that SPD can’t see walled social media (but can see WSB) so please don’t just report crimes/suspicions on social media – call it in! Westwood Village will be one of this summer’s big emphasis points, “mostly due to the property crimes they have” especially shoplifting. They also, as weather warms, plan emphasis patrols in places where people gather, from Alki to Highland Park.
HPAC chair Gunner Scott asked about police staffing for the precinct. “Down a handful,” replied Lt. Strand.
What kind of cooperation between city and county law enforcement? Depends on the incident, he said – for example, both were involved after the shooting on 16th SW on Monday. Detectives on both sides of the line will often share information in case they’re both working similar cases, he added. Another attendee asked about South Delridge shooting cases, including that Monday incident.
“This is an epidemic, it’s not going away, what can be done to make it go away? … Residents should not have to deal with bullets flying all over.” Lt. Strand says the problem is manyfold, from drugs to vacant homes. “As far as the recent violent crimes, they were specific and targeted, not somebody random …” Interjected the attendee, that’s no consolation. “Why is this OK, that this keeps happening in this neighborhood?” Lt. Strand said he’s not saying it’s OK – “it bothers you, it bothers all of us.” Though West Seattle has a lower rate of violent crime, “that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.” The attendee was hoping for a reply about action – the nuisance houses, for example, perhaps SPD could put pressure on SDCI. “You may not have an answer for me today, but … next year … this is a firing range. It seems people come through and test their guns in alleyways … what the heck?” Another person said she had called in gunshots at least three times and she felt as if this “pocket of West Seattle” had a worse problem than others. “It was a lot like this 12 years ago, then there was less of it, but in recent years” it’s revived. Yet another South Delridge resident said, “Where that man was shot, I was there a day before with my grandson.”
Another woman said she has a 1-year-old and is often walking in that area. “This is personal. Too close to home.” She said she is worried about repeat property-crime offenders. “What type of emphasis do you have for residential (areas)?” She also wondered if there are “specific conditions” creating the problems in South Delridge and vicinity. A higher number of vacant properties awaiting demolition is one factor, acknowledged Lt. Strand. Some apartment buildings in the area near Delridge/Barton/Henderson also have been “a magnet” for some criminal activity, he added.
Another resident identifying himself as “a recent victim of … theft” at his home wondered how police choose patrol areas. “What has to be done to get more people on the streets?” Lt. Strand said “police capacity” is a topic of interest almost everywhere. “There’s not a lot we can do with that” – the budget sets the numbers, recruiting and retention are required to keep those numbers up, but when they have “low staffing, we spend overtime money to keep those numbers up and keep people safe” and to keep response time within reasonable boundaries. Police visibility is not necessarily a deterrent for violent crimes, Lt. Strand added.
Another attendee said, more people are moving here but we’re not getting more police – “who do we appeal to?” Lt. Strand said you could start with your elected officials. He also said West Seattle remains a desirable place for officers to want to transfer to.
CRIME PREVENTION COORDINATOR: Jennifer Danner explained she’s a civilian employee of SPD – no gun and badge – lots of community work. She started by talking about Find It, Fix It. She also stressed that reporting even seemingly small crimes is important. If you’re worried about police capacity, make sure that SPD has full information about what’s happening.”Think about it as pins on a map,” she said. “If things aren’t reported, we don’t know about it.”
You CAN call 911 to report suspicious behavior – someone who seems to be prowling yards, for example. Someone said they’d made that call and an officer didn’t show up for an hour and a half. Yes, that might happen, depending on what else is going on, Danner said, but PLEASE make the call.
What if it’s not happening now? Is there a website? Yes, Danner said, you can file an online report. But that doesn’t lead to a dispatch, she noted.
Another question had to do with speeding enforcement. That usually comes through the Traffic unit, which is based downtown.
What about needles in your yard? You can call 911 or dispose of them “in a proper way” (that was addressed at a previous HPAC meeting) but don’t use Find It, Fix It unless they’re on public property.
OK, so if drugs is the driving thing, another man mentioned, “with motor home X that’s on street Y for a year and leaves for a few days and comes back … who do you call and say something’s wrong when something’s wrong, and what’s going to happen?” Danner said that some RV issues “are out of (SPD’s) control. … We’re doing the best we can.” But if you see a problem, use Find It, Fix It or report to Danner’s unit. Lt. Strand chimed in at this point. SPD can’t outlaw homelessness – sleeping in a vehicle is not illegal – but criminal behavior is what they can address, as well as parking violations. He mentioned the weekly SPU cleanup by the West Seattle Health Club (where currently there are X RVs), as well as RV camping at 1st/Kenyon, which is “scheduled for a cleanup in 2 weeks … and then they’ll go to somebody else’s neighborhood, and come back.”
Parking regulations were then brought up – including one involving the width of a vehicle’s axle. “If it’s over 80 inches wide and it’s parked in a residential area, we’ll write a citation,” but that doesn’t result in a tow – it would have to be there past the 72-hour limit. “And we can’t tow a vehicle if someone is living in it,” Danner added.
Before this segment of the meeting wrapped, an attendee who lives in the Myers Way area asked about the Navigation Team and other police interaction with it. SPD has just rolled out a new thing from assistant chief of operations empowering CPTs and bicycle teams to deal more with tents and encampments.
You can reach Danner at email@example.com.
ROUNDABOUT: Michele Witzki talked about the recent state denial of an SDOT-sought grant for this long-sought-after project. She subsequently applied to a different grant program. She also mentioned that City Councilmember Lisa Herbold was working with 34th District Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon and Sen. Joe Nguyen had worked to put roundabout money into their respective bodies’ transportation budgets – $2.5 million. They saw him last weekend and asked what could be done to try to push this through. She said he gave them honest caveats that there are a “lot of balls up in the air” but encouraged people to write thank-you notes to “the two Joes” as well as to Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, who played a role in this. Chair Scott said they are hoping for some citywide coverage on this as well as reminding Mayor Durkan that she committed to HP that if the state didn’t make the money happen, the city would figure out how.
COLLABORATION WITH SOUTH DELRIDGE AND RIVERVIEW: What would it look like if the three neighborhoods formed a coalition and had a louder voice when needed? Discussion proceeded. South Delridge reps at the meetings noted that many Delridge issues tend only to be addressed on the north side and the south gets forgotten. One attendee said that there were separate groups from separate parts of the area long ago and then it merged.
Scott mentioned that the entire area was Dumar’s Farm and maybe a coalition could take the historic name. It’ll be discussed more in the future.
CAMP SECOND CHANCE DECISION: This came up for brief discussion toward the end of the meeting. Scott noted that it’s not clear what happens at the end of the six-month extension announced earlier in the day – only that the city is saying it will “engage” with the community. Scott recapped what HPAC had requested as mitigation – none of which had resulted. So now they’re looking into how the zoning process is being used here. Scott said he agrees personally that C2C is a “good model” but the problem is how the city does and doesn’t deal with the community. Barbara Dobkin from the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council said her area is “more impacted” by the camp and camping in the area than much of West Seattle “but we don’t have a voice.” One attendee said that she had written to Councilmember Herbold asking about this and Herbold had replied that Othello Village had set a precedent but it’s on privately owned property, she pointed out. She also said that they’re talking about a religious ordinance, in which a religious group could lease land from the city and be the encampment host.
Scott said HP will look at what its options are, if any – is this legal? for example – “it doesn’t feel ethical.” He added, “At the end of the day, if they have broken the law, it’ll be incumbent on the neighborhood to hire an attorney.”
ANNOUNCEMENTS: HPIC, site of HPAC meetings and much more, is celebrating its 100th anniversary with events coming up from Corner Bar to Art Lounge to upcoming Uncorked wine fundraiser. Check the website.
Highland Park Action Committee meets fourth Wednesdays most months, 7 pm at Highland Park Improvement Club. Watch hpacws.org for updates between meetings.
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