AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE: City’s ‘town hall’ for West Seattle

(WSB recording of the meeting, added 9:30 pm)

5:09 PM: Just started – late – the “town hall” meeting for West Seattle, as announced by the mayor’s office. Department of Neighborhoods director Andres Mantilla, a Highland Park resident, introduced the mayor, who says the city has a “trilogy” of challenges – the pandemic, its economic consequences, and the fight for racial justice. After a few minutes, she mentions reinventing policing and her opposition, along with SPD Chief Carmen Best, to “drastic” cuts proposed in SPD.

5:15 PM: Now she moves on to the West Seattle Bridge closure. “We know it’s a lifeline, not just for West Seattle, but for the port, and our regional economy.” Then it’s on to Chief Best, who declares, “I love West Seattle.”

She then notes that Capt. Kevin Grossman has taken over the Southwest Precinct (as of 3 weeks ago), while former commander Capt. Pierre Davis has moved on to the Collaborative Policing Bureau. Then: A dozen shootings are under investigation citywide in recent weeks; homicides so far are at 31 for the year, compared to 19 at this time last year. West Seattle’s crime rate overall is “relatively decent” – down 16 percent; there’s been one homicide, in January, solved, and she says they’re not counting the Duwamish Head suitcase-bodies discovery as West Seattle murders because they didn’t happen here. Property crime is down except for arson and auto theft.

Then she moves on to reiterate that if SPD funding is halved, “we would likely not staff the Southwest Precinct” – there wouldn’t be enough staff for it, so what officers remain would likely move to the South Precinct, which also handled this area until the SW Precinct was built in 2003. She says so far it looks like they will NOT face cuts like that this year. Whatever cuts are faced, her priority would be responding to 911 calls. She says she and the mayor want to hear from the community about “what you want to see” regarding public safety.

5:23 PM: Next up, Public Health Seattle-King County director Patty Hayes, who identifies herself as a West Seattle resident. She presents some COVID-19 toplines, including the current “uptick.”

Her briefing isn’t West Seattle-specific, however, but she reminds people that you can’t just take solace in a lower death rate – people who survive get “very sick.” She talks about the efforts to test more and trace contacts, and the continued work on a vaccine. She says she was riding her bicycle on Alki last week and dismayed to see people not physically distancing enough – “we really need to all participate.”

5:32 PM: Next, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins. He says he has two updates. Since adding units to West Seattle and South Park post-bridge closure, “we’re holding strong” on response times in the area. He also talks about SFD’s involvement in COVID-19 testing- 68,000 people tested at the two city sites, 2.8 percent positive rate among those tested at those sites.

5:36 PM: Jason Johnson, director of the Human Services Department and also a WS resident, presented updates on homelessness response, including added beds at the Southwest Teen Life Center to allow more distancing in permanent shelters. “As a result, COVID-19 transmission at city-funded (facilities) has been flat,” he said. He also talked about “youth and family safety” projects/programs, including a $6 million suite of programs for 18- to 24-year-olds “harmed by the criminal legal system.”

5:42 PM: Yet another city department director who lives in WS, SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe, is speaking now. He notes that two of four work platforms are now installed on the bridge – two more are going up next week, “weather permitting.” He said that instrumentation installed to monitor the bridge was watched during the platform-raising so they could learn more about its response. He also noted the information presented to the Community Task Force yesterday, most notably that repairing the bridge MIGHT give it 15 more years of use rather than the 10 years previously cited. He also had dates/times for the “office hours” next week to discuss Reconnect West Seattle if you have comments/questions:

Wednesday 7/29 at noon, Thursday 7/30 at 6:30 pm,

5:49 PM: Now it’s Q&A time. First one – how will the city support people’s basic needs when we don’t know when the pandemic will end? “The city won’t be able to do it by itself,” says the mayor, but she’s talking to others such as the state and feds. She hopes to extend the eviction prohibition through year’s end, for one. She adds that they’re hopeful of getting federal support for the WS Bridge. The city meantime will keep trying to help with things like grocery vouchers.

What other cities are Durkan and Best looking to for examples of successful police reform? “Nobody has done this right” yet, Durkan says, contending that in some ways, Seattle is already ahead, with crisis training and more, but “the community has to lead the way” in helping them improve. Best said she’s involved with national organizations that discuss the topic “often” but says much of what’s discussed already has been implemented here. That said, she goes on to say that some things officers respond to, might be better handled by others – but they would have to be available around the clock as are police. Neither, in long answers, mentions any specific city. The mayor declares “a lot of the answers we need are right here at home” with community organizations.

6 PM: Followup question, what’s the timeline for 2020 and 2021 budget changes? The mayor says the former is happening now but “extensive community engagement” for the latter will happen over the next month. She promises “additional engagement in West Seattle – we’re coming to you.” The chief says there needs to be ‘a plan” so there’s no gap in services.

Next, has the mayor outlined specific 2021 plans? She mentions what she and Best presented last week (WSB coverage here). She also repeats that they promise an “open conversation” with community members. And she again touts some things already happening, like the SFD “Health One” unit responding to people in crisis.

Q: With more people staying at home, is the city seeing rising domestic violence, and what’s being done about it? The mayor first says, please call 911 if it’s happening, resources are in place. The chief says there was an early spike in domestic violence this spring and they circulated a lot of information about how to get help. She also talks about the SPD victim advocates and resources they can access to get victims safely out of danger. The problem has “tapered off” lately, she adds.

Now, a WS Bridge question: When can the low bridge be reopened to more traffic? Zimbabwe notes that they’ve already done what they can including opening it to all overnight. “If we opened it up to everybody to access all the time, nobody would be able to access it.” He also says some Sylvan Way improvements are ahead (no details – we’ll follow up on those) as well as a left-turn signal at 16th/Holden.

School issues – how can the city help with child care, etc.? “We have to have extra help” for families, she acknowledges, and says the city’s talking with Seattle Public Schools about issues such as emergency child care. Given that many people will be working from home at least through year’s end, they are trying to find ways to perhaps repurpose preschool levy money to help.

6:16 PM: The event is wrapping up after a little more than an hour. The mayor urges everyone to take pandemic precautions, and vows to “put pressure on” other levels of government for help. She also says it’s time for reparations because of the generations of “omissions and commissions that have led to” unfairness at so many levels. “We are in an unprecedented time, so unprecedented that the word ‘unprecedented’ doesn’t seem to capture it.” She says she “looks forward to more discussions.”

If you didn’t get your question(s) answered, you’re invited to email jenny.durkan@seattle.gov. Meantime, we recorded all this on video and will add it above when ready (the city also promises a recording in the days ahead.)

17 Replies to "AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE: City's 'town hall' for West Seattle"

  • Jamie July 23, 2020 (7:27 pm)

    I also attended today’s call and was incredibly disappointed to hear both SPD Chief Best and Mayor Durkan’s response to questions related to police reform. They failed to acknowledge any role that SPD played in the escalating violence at protests, Chief Best almost chuckled as she referenced the use of less lethal force, and Mayor Durkan repeatedly said that Seattle is the global model city for police de-escalation tactics. Really??!?!?How do we fix this issue (police using force in response to non-violent, yet emphatic protests) if the Mayor and Police Chief won’t take even partial ownership of the core issues that resulted in violence and repeated escalations?

    • Dennis July 23, 2020 (9:10 pm)

      I didn’t hear that.  I heard her admit that they’d made some mistakes and I think she said she “owns that” and they would move forward.  I also believe that there is a lot of review going on, and I think that will be important.  But I think we need to be fair that no one got this “right” in any city, and I’m not sure what “right” would be when there are people who infiltrate peaceful and rightfully angry crowds for purposes of escalating events.  And I’m honestly not sure how we should reasonably expect police to respond when people start throwing things, burning things, etc.  The whole situation makes me so sad.  I’m also not sure how we could hope for a better chief than we have right now.  Everywhere I look, I see old white men as chiefs.  And I say this as an old white man.  

  • Me July 24, 2020 (6:06 am)

    Jamie- I think you’ve been reading too many headlines. Talk to the SPD officers who were injured. Unfortunately it only takes a few people in a group to start acting violently for them to need to react. And yes, in a situation like that everyone in a crowd will get sprayed. Don’t like it? Maybe our police just shouldn’t respond to these “protests” then. We can continue to let people destroy businesses and personal property in the name of “justice” as we did this week when no arrests were made. SPD is the model for reform. Look at their data. I’m surprised we even have any officers left with the lack of support from this city. 

    • zark00 July 24, 2020 (12:20 pm)

      Maybe the police putting on riot gear, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets, to “protect” Nike Town isn’t the best use of their skills.  We have over 50 years of research in this country that proves that when police show up IN riot gear, ready for a fight, they absolutely escalate the situation and make it more violent and more dangerous for everyone.  Should we send police in to shoot tear gas when someone breaks a window?  No, no we should not.  That’s not how you police a protest.  We know this, we have since the 1967 study, and the 1977 study, and the 1999 study, but police unions and city police forces actively ignore the research, and use what is referred to as the ‘nip it in the bud’ approach to protest policing.  Levy stronger, more violent, force on the protesters BEFORE they get violent.  The Police expect violence, respond with pre-enforcement, and it backfires every single time – they create more violence than they are there to prevent. While it may feel like the police are doing the right things and just reacting to violent protesters, research and 50 years of study prove that the police are in fact making the situation much much worse, they are creating violence where none necessarily existed.  Breaking a window is vandalism, it is not a violent crime.  Police reacting to vandalism as violence is a huge part of the problem here.  This paper is a pretty good resource to help understand the research behind policing protests. https://www.hfg.org/Policing%20Protests.pdfThis is what police in our country no longer do:When police operate from the vantage point of how to facilitate peaceful protests rather than how to control or regulate them,they can improve the relationships between police and protesters and reduce the likelihood of conflict and violence.

      • Me July 24, 2020 (7:54 pm)

        That’s easy to say if you don’t own a business. There are many business owners having their livelihoods destroyed by these “protestors”. And maybe I was raised right, but the destruction of property does deserve a response in my opinion. The officers show up in riot gear because you have people out there throwing things at them. Should they not be able to protect themselves? Should they show up without any protection? What you’re doing is victim blaming. Yes, the police are the victims in this situation. 

      • TM7302 July 25, 2020 (2:13 am)

        ZARKOO, thank you for schooling us on everything that is plaguing both Seattle and Portland.  While I don’t claim to speak for every American, I bet I can speak for most.  Most Americans don’t mind protests, it’s in our DNA.  What we mind is when the protesters try to demean or prevent our rights to either disagree or ignore.  What we mind is when the protesters  impede our ability to enjoy our lives free of noise, traffic jams and our freedom of movement. What we mind is the cost  of policing the protesters, trash cleanup, vandalism and lost revenue to business.  What we mind is the atmosphere of fear created by protesters to further their agenda.   What we mind is the wanton and reckless destruction of life and property by protesters. I don’t think many of us would mind if the protesters would stay in their lane and leave the rest of us alone.  They can shout, wave signs, stomp, curse and shout as long as they RESPECT everyone else in the city. I do disagree with you definition of violence though.  Violence can be many things such as vandalism, rioting, and shouting; since violence is the exercise of physical force or “intimidation” by the exhibition of such force.   And such exhibition of that force most likely would require police intervention.

        • S - in West Seattle July 25, 2020 (10:43 am)

          Amen 100% agree. Soon as you prevent me from going about my business and threaten my life or family you have stepped over the protection you have to protest. Once that happens then you lose those rights to protest and need to be dealt with properly. 

      • Small Biz Owner July 25, 2020 (1:36 pm)

        How many consecutive days of broken windows can you afford? A broken window will also damage merchandise close to it, and a boarded up window makes a less inviting retail environment. So to the business owner, its not “just a broken window”. Its an intrusion on your personal space, you feel violated and helpless. I know, my business has been broken into twice. Why should I have to deal with the physical damage and the emotional trauma because some idiot thinks breaking stuff is the way to make change? Until you experience this, you won’t understand what it feels like. Pouring your heart and sole into a small business, only to have that soured by someone destroying what you have built. I still get upset sometimes, thinking about someone rifling around my store and taking things I paid for, and then having to pay for the damage as well. So to some of us, its not “just a broken window”, its a lot more than that. Please think about others before making statements like that.

  • Sarah July 24, 2020 (6:20 am)

    I’m curious as to why they are choosing the SW Precinct to close down if police de-funding goes through? It seems to be West Seattle is the least accessible area of the city to reach (certainly without a bridge) so it seems like police response times might be notably longer than almost any other Seattle neighborhood. Does anyone know what they are basing the SW Precinct shutdown on vs any of our other stations? Perhaps I’m missing some key info here.

    • Chris July 24, 2020 (10:53 am)

      One would think that the decision to close precincts is based on crime data. I would like to hear about data supporting the need to close the Southwest precinct. With the bridge closure, it seems like the most dangerous precinct to close. Also, I’m gonna say it one more time, Free West Seattle! Let’s get on the ballot to become our own municipality with our own police.

      • WSB July 24, 2020 (11:06 am)

        This is not even a formal proposal at this point. The chief said it MIGHT be how she chooses to manage facilities IF the SPD budget really is halved (which – unless a new council agenda is out – has not yet been formally put into legislation either).

      • wscommuter July 24, 2020 (11:31 am)

        @ Chris — you need to do some math.  West Seattle could not generate sufficient tax revenue to support the municipal services we’d need to replace if we were to secede from the City of Seattle.  It’s not even a close call, or at all a serious idea.  

      • Lillet July 24, 2020 (12:10 pm)

        I’m with you. Let’s secede, West Seattle! A police officer my husband knows said that Westwood Village has some of the most prevalent crime in Seattle. Makes no sense to close our local precinct.

    • Will S. July 24, 2020 (12:19 pm)

      Sarah asks a good question, because Chief Best is the only person who has suggested closing the Southwest Precinct. Chief Best has not put forth any data about crime rates or response times–or even how much money would be saved–that would allow anyone to compare closing the Southwest Precinct to other possible choices. Chief Best clearly just does not like the talk of “defunding” police, and I think it’s a shame that Chief Best chose not to put any real effort into reimagining SPD or taking this opportunity to make big changes that would improve the department. So only one explanation makes sense to me: Chief Best suggested closing the Southwest Precinct because she understood the political pressure it would put on Lisa Herbold, as the District 1 council member and the chair of the city council’s public safety committee. Now, with Mayor Durkan continuing to back Chief Best, and with the city council occupying a position of impotence due to its longstanding lack of interest in conducting basic oversight on the management and budget of city agencies, there are only the dimmest prospects for genuine reimagining of policing in Seattle.

      • Dennis July 24, 2020 (5:25 pm)

        I recall that what she said yesterday was that based on staffing, the SW precinct would only see as many as 6 officers at any one time, so it didn’t make financial sense to maintain an entire building for just this level of staffing, and instead have them deploy from the South Precinct for patrols in SW.  Officers would still be out in cars in WS, just the building would be closed.  

        • Me July 24, 2020 (7:51 pm)

          Don’t you think that’s a problem? Is our officer minimum 6 officers on in WS at a time? That’s nothing for this area. I’m still arguing we need more police. 

  • Cindi A Laws July 29, 2020 (6:12 pm)

    For those who believe that West Seattle has high crime, SE Seattle wants you to hold their beers.  I’m one of those who fought for a decade to get the West Seattle Precinct, and was at Mayor Norm Rice’s press conference when he made the announcement that the peninsula would finally get it’s own Precinct. That said, West Seattle has the lowest crime in the city, except for car theft and car prowls.People can and should get familiar with “SeaStat”, the data center for the Seattle Police Department, begun by former SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole. This tool is invaluable; SeaStat generally has briefings every two weeks. The PowerPoint reports (each one of them are online) offer great insight into trends and hard data by precinct. Other data sets are also available on the website. http://www.seattle.gov/police/information-and-data/seastat#2020slides 

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