From police reform to crime stats, candid Q&A with new Southwest Precinct leaders @ West Seattle Crime Prevention Council

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Hours before a protest group gathered outside the Southwest Precinct, its new commander was talking about police reform at the first online meeting of the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council.

Capt. Kevin Grossman and his second-in-command, Operations Lt. Sina Ebinger, had a lot more to say – from West Seattle’s crime drop, to police staffing.

The WSCPC, rather than an organized group, has long been a monthly gathering of whoever shows up, coordinated by community member Richard Miller, often with special guests as well as local police leadership. Meetings went on hiatus after February because of the pandemic; last night, the WSCPC returned, with the help of SW Precinct Crime Prevention Coordinator Jennifer Danner.

Capt. Grossman opened with a recap of his background (which we’ve covered at other community meetings, as well as in our interview with him). Then – the trends:

“We currently have crime rates much, much lower than 2019,” he said, while making it clear that the pandemic and bridge closure were undoubtedly major factors.

How low? 17 percent lower than this time last year. Both violent crime and property crime are down. Not every individual category, though – his top priority, shots-fired cases, are up from last year, 29 so far, compared to 27 at this point in 2019. “Still less than the rest of the city,” he noted. But it’s worrisome that almost a third of those incidents, 9, were just in the past month. And there’s no cluster or common attribute, he said – his crime-analysis detective has taken a close look but the incidents are “really all over the place.”

His #2 priority, auto theft, is up 1 percent in West Seattle from last year. As his predecessors often explained at WSCPC meetings, a small number of thieves tend to be responsible for a large number of cases, so one arrest can significantly “disrupt” the trend. He also discussed prevention – Danner obtained a grant to buy and distribute steering-wheel locks, and he’s hoping they’ll be able to do that again.

His #3 priority, burglary, is down in a big way – 22 percent less than last year. As Capt. Grossman told another recent meeting, there’s a bit of a cluster in The Junction that they’re watching – 9 burglaries in 4 weeks. Two of those, he disclosed, were at LA Fitness, possibly with access through a stolen card that’s since been deactivated. He said they’ve also been noting burglaries in what are supposed to be secure apartment garages – often the burglar will follow someone in and steal bicycles or items from storage areas. Danner, he said, will be following up directly with buildings that are having issues.

ALKI BEACH: He addressed the ongoing trouble there, saying he’s heard a lot from community members about traffic noise, fires, alcohol, fireworks, racing, and more. Without getting into the specifics of the recent short-lived plan for Seattle Parks to cover officers on overtime, he nonetheless lamented a lack of resources.”I’ve never seen a point in my 24 years where we are stretched this thin on resources … and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.” He said he’d like to use the precinct’s 6-officer Anti-Crime Team at Alki, but those officers often instead are deployed – as are others from precincts around the city – to deal with downtown/Capitol Hill protests. (Last weekend police were deployed in SODO during a protest outside the Seattle Police Officers Guild HQ; he was asked how many police that had involved, but said he wasn’t sure.)

Shortly thereafter, Lt. Ebinger joined in on the topic, after a bit of self-introduction (21 years with SPD after 11 years in the military; her SPD career has covered a wide range of roles, including the Traffic Unit, the Crisis Intervention Team, and the Navigation Team). She started answering questions that attendees were posting in the teleconference’s chat feature. “We are tapped, we are SO tapped,” but they’ve brought in some Traffic Unit resources here and there to help with issues from speeding to road rage.

Questions: How many officers might the precinct lose under the budget cuts recently passed by the City Council? “Too early to tell,” Grossman said. And he warned that it’s not just a matter of “defunding,” but the fact that the pandemic has taken a giant bite out of city finances. The city and state rely on taxes that “just aren’t coming in right now.”

But he added that he has an “ask” for the City Council regarding police reform: “I hope we can have a good conversation about what the police should be doing and … should not be doing.” As he’s said at previous meetings, he has views on that: “I think we as a society overrely on 911 to do things …
a lot of things that don’t need a police response. We go to traffic collisions all the time where no one was hurt … we’re in essence taking information for the insurance companies, working for the insurance companies. Collisions take a lot of time.”

Another category Capt. Grossman said could be handled differently: “A lot of homelessness-related issues (are often related to) mental health, substance abuse, (and) could be handled best by other entities.” Safety and cost-efficiency means, he stressed, “making sure we use sworn officers with a gun and a badge for the right things.” He also observed that “criminalization of drug use doesn’t work … the war on drugs is a failure” – treatment is what abusers need.

He also said traffic enforcement is not necessarily efficient, either – “engineering solutons are often much cheaper in the long run and more effective.” He cited the Alki Point Stay Healthy/Keep Moving Street as one successful tactic that’s cut down on “issues” neighbors have experienced. One-way streets, speed humps, “those thngs are more likely to be effective in the long run.” Straightening out the matter of who’s accountable for closing the Don Armeni Boat Ramp gate also has helped.

That said – “a 50 percent cut [in the police budget] doesn’t seem to have much ground in rationality.” He fears the council is moving too quickly, and needs to talk with “a broader cross-section of residents. … It seems the City Council is not hearing the whole story.”

Another City Council-related question: “How many officers are assigned to protect City Councilmembers?”


And then someone asked why West Seattle/South Park Councilmember Lisa Herbold wasn’t at the meeting. Capt. Grossman replied by saying she had reached out to him and that they had a “good conversation” the previous night. “She seemed very willing to have a conversation, very willing to be open-minded about what I had to say,” and he in turn told her that he’s always available “if she had any questions about the precinct or about the department.”

Another question: What can community members do to support the police? And what if they’re worried about calling 911 when they know police are stretched thin?

Grossman implored, “Please keep calling. The 911 center is really good about triaging calls … if someone’s life safety is threatened, we will be there.” Even if it’s not necessarily a matter of life safety, he said, “I would rather you call … we rely so heavily on data, if people don’t call, that’s numbers we’re not measuring. I don’t want the crime rate to be low because people are not calling us.”

Back to the question of community support, Lt. Ebinger answered that neighborhood solidarity would go a long way. “Come together, do trash pickups, get to know your neighbors … I can’t tell you how important it is; it can help us as police on calls.” Grossman added that, “The more you know your neighbors, the less likely you are to need police to resolve issues.”

And of course, he said, expressing appreciation to an officer is helpful. He said many in the department are trying to “lateral” – move to other police agencies – right now. “If you have the opportunity to say h and thank you, that will go a long way.”

Time ran out with questions waiting, so Grossman answered them in writing, and Danner sent us the resulting document:

West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meetings are usually on third Tuesdays – watch for the announcement of next month’s meeting.

19 Replies to "From police reform to crime stats, candid Q&A with new Southwest Precinct leaders @ West Seattle Crime Prevention Council"

  • Blbl August 19, 2020 (11:15 pm)

    What about the question asking how many police were dispatched on Sunday night against the 100 protestors in SODO? I believe he said approximately half of all officers in the city. Which is nuts.  I read the fire department actually responded to a 911 rape call that night because all the cops were guarding their union hall and would not respond to the rape call. Priorities, I guess. 

    • Anne August 20, 2020 (7:57 am)

      It’s your right to be outraged about how many officers were dispatched to this protest-but my right to say -send whatever it takes to protect our city .Have you seen the body cam footage of that confrontation? Please show  us-where you read that Officers would not respond to a 911 rape call because their priority was  to protect their union building. 

      • Blbl August 20, 2020 (2:04 pm)

        This link is to the widely circulated scanner transcript describing the rape call.

      • Blbl August 20, 2020 (2:12 pm)

        Here are photos of the scanner transcript:

      • Blbl August 20, 2020 (2:32 pm)

        They weren’t protecting “our city”, they were protecting their union hall. Property. Not people. In doing so, they ignored a rape victim and God knows what else. And yes, I saw the highly edited body cam footage. They seem to have deleted the footage of them beating unarmed protestors, though. They declared a riot then trapped the protestors in an alley so they could not disperse. All that footage is available too, but for some reason the SPD isn’t posting it to Nextdoor Iike the one they created. 

        • uncle loco August 20, 2020 (3:36 pm)

          Sounds like they had to ignore the rape victim thanks to the “peaceful” rioters.

  • Rob August 19, 2020 (11:52 pm)

    While I support SPD, the fine men and women who wear the uniform,  and do indeed value their work (Yes, I’m a supporter and it doesn’t distract from true BLM core values).  So while I support SPD it is disappointing to hear that they choose not to support us.   The budget  hasn’t actually been cut by 50% that I know of and we do need police help.  I appreciate the position they are in and I absolutely disagree with the council’s misdirected belief that cutting the budget is a solution for anything.  In fact, in order to affect change it takes additional resources, not fewer.   Therefore if we want to truly change the SPD role in our community in positive way then we must not cut the budget.  At the same time, the police need to respect their obligation to the community and not blow us off.    Put the resources where they can, be transparent and honest about what those priorities are and what they can do. Writing off crime is not the solution.   I have not heard that a majority, or even anything near a majority, wants to defund the police.  In my opinion it’s just the council that has this strange idea that cutting the budget will improve our safety -the safety of all of us.  Okay,  we are angry about institutional racism but the solution is not defunding SPD.   We need time to work this out, but to SPD:  please don’t blow us off in the meantime.  You still have a job to do, with our support and appreciation.  We have work to do talking  to the mayor’s office and the council to find how SPD and the community can work together on solutions.  Where do we begin?

    • Allen Bower August 20, 2020 (7:08 am)

      I don’t think you truly understand how understaffed the SPD is. Before all of the defunding they were a couple hundred officers short compared to cities of the similar population and now with what appears to be low morale/lack of support from city officials officers are applying in droves and resigning. I don’t know the true validity of this but my neighbor who works for SPD told me on Sunday night, the night of the riot that SPD had only approximately 75 officers total working uniformed a cross the whole city!  That is scary and if true a sense of what is to come. 

      • Duffy August 20, 2020 (11:05 am)

        Have you seen how much some of these cops make? The overtime “system” is a joke and fraught with issues. The end result is a handful of cops getting paid a TON of money, yet even before the council voted on defunding the same song and dance from the SPD and their union is how they don’t have any money to do their jobs effectively. Solution? Stop this bogus OT system where cops game it to make a ton of money because it doesn’t help fight crime and keep order. Cap pay and limit overtime, free up money to HIRE MORE COPS. Enough of this BS.

      • Rob August 20, 2020 (1:51 pm)

        They may be understaffed and I don’t disagree with your view. A more nuanced thought is that they maybe spinning their wheels with too many responding to a single event.   They seem to be responding to calls everywhere that may require only caution while explicit law breakers are left to enjoy the streets.  Also, I wonder why the day shift?  Is that some of the shortage?  It seems more should be on the evening/night shift with fewer during the day.   Maybe that’s why your neighbor said there were only 75 working?  It looks like we have 1325 deployable officers.   SPD is the largest in the state.  Here are some stats from city hall.        I’m not saying they don’t have a tough job.  But based on budget realities I would expect them to continue to serve the community.  This feels like we are being punished for the Council’s bad faith, to include the WS council member.   We are getting slammed from both directions in the name of playing politics.

    • Anne August 20, 2020 (7:51 am)

      Hey-why not – next time you see an SPD  Officer-engage that Officer in conversation-maybe ask – seems like you are blowing us off here in WS-(if that’s how you really feel.)-why? You might be interested in what’s they have to say.   

      • Rob August 20, 2020 (1:57 pm)

        I have considered stopping to talk.  They don’t look like they are in a talking mood.   I’m worried about their morale and want to tell them that I welcome them to the community.  I’m just not sure they want to hear it from me.  The last thing they need is to hear criticism about being blown off by them.  The issue is not with the police on the beat.  The issue is with funding and the structure of the institution.  As I said, we need to continue full funding while managing a transition to the kind of police force that fits with our needs.   Change takes money.  

  • Citizen Sane August 20, 2020 (7:41 am)

    Good article. Thank you WSB for doing the grunt work of covering unsexy but useful community information like this.I understand SPD’s point that investigating non-injury auto wrecks is not necessarily a good use of their time, but there is a reason why a police report is a good thing: Insurance companies are not likely to dispute them.Three years ago I was rear-ended by a dump truck at SLU. There were no injuries, and my car wasn’t totaled. The trucking company’s supervisor came, looked at everything, and told the driver to exchange license/insurance information with me. I reported the accident to my insurance and considered the whole thing a done deal.Imagine my surprise when my insurance later told me I was on the hook for my deductible because the trucking company claimed their truck never hit me! Since it boiled down to my word against theirs, the matter was dropped.I agree having a police officer there isn’t the best use of limited resources, but as long as people are going to try to weasel out of things, you need an independent third party to document/be an ‘honest broker’. Outside of cops, we don’t have an alternative right now.

  • AlkiBOOMS August 20, 2020 (10:27 am)

    Easy to have a lower crime rate if you actively choose to not respond to calls. Guess it all depends on what you define as crime. If you choose to not see it, then it never actually happened? The 3 months of fireworks, burnouts, and fights on Alki certainly are not getting counted since SPD have chosen to not adapt to new and growing community behaviors amidst the pandemic closures. 

    • WSB August 20, 2020 (10:45 am)

      They are counted if they are called in, regardless of what the response is or is not.

    • Anne August 20, 2020 (11:09 am)

      Love how folks throw that out there-“actively choose not to respond to calls”The 3 months of fireworks, burnouts, and fights on Alki certainly are not getting counted since SPD have chosen to not adapt to new and growing community behaviors amidst the pandemic closures. Chosen not to adapt??think this is the most ridiculous-nonsensical statement  I’ve read. Would it be great to have a police presence at Alki all summer 24/7-or maybe just half that-sure-but they are understaffed-even if you choose not to believe that(does anyone remember Lisa Herbold running for re-election last November-endorsing hiring more police?)Why don’t you mosey on down to SW precinct & speak with LE-or -with their Community Liason-have a conversation-see what their response is.No probably easier to just lambast them in comments-suggest that they don’t care,ignore calls.

      • WSB August 20, 2020 (12:02 pm)

        The precinct is not currently open to the public so you’d have to look for an officer out and about to talk with one. And I’ll say it again – even if an officer is not sent, a call counts. Same for incidents reported online.

      • AlkiBOOMS August 20, 2020 (1:02 pm)

        Just as an FYI – I have tried those approaches. Tried reaching out to their community officer multiple times to ask these questions, without any response. I’ve called the non-emergency line multiple times with issues, just to be told they won’t be responding. First hand experiences.  All of that leads to the assumption that leadership somewhere along the line has failed to adapt their patrol schedules or enforcement priorities to new and growing issues within the W1 and W2 sections of the city. I think it is fair to raise concern that our area is not being managed to the needs, while also understanding there are other constraints from Capital Hill, etc that make it a challenge. Thus, I think it is fair to have an opinion that 3 months of unmitigated or under-midigated problems on Alki are worth finally being fed up with. I’ll voice my opinion here, at community meetings and elsewhere in hopes that other residents do similarly and we can achieve some sort of awareness to the growing issues that have affected us on a nightly basis. 

  • Medium August 20, 2020 (2:27 pm)

    There are less than 100 officers citywide at a time. The protests go on every day and night somewhere in the city and require a portion of those resources. Watch the video from Sunday night. The protesters were lighting explosives and blowing up people and property. Guess how many police it takes to make 18 arrests? The community at large is much less safe right now and will be for the foreseeable future. Fireworks and noise will not be addressed this year. 

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