By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
No matter where you are on the topic of transforming public safety, you likely have been talking a lot about it lately.
And it dominated last night’s meeting of the District 1 Community Network (D1CN), with featured guests from the Seattle Police Department’s Southwest Precinct – new commander Capt. Kevin Grossman, new operations Lt. Sina Ebinger, and Crime Prevention Coordinator Jennifer Danner.
D1CN is a coalition of West Seattle/South Park community-organization reps and other interested area residents; among the groups/organizations represented last night were the Seattle Emergency Communication Hubs, West Seattle Be Prepared, Pigeon Point Neighborhood Council, West Seattle Bike Connections, Morgan Community Association, West Seattle Transportation Coalition, South Park Neighborhood Association, West Seattle Timebank, Admiral Neighborhood Association, Duwamish Valley Safe Streets, VIEWS, Alki Community Council, and Fauntleroy Community Association.
POLICE SPOTLIGHT: Capt. Grossman spoke first, introducing himself and his priorities (see our June interview) – including gunfire (12 incidents in West Seattle in the past month, no injuries aside from the Alki shooting last Sunday, 28 year to date, up a bit from 24 at this point last year), auto thefts (Seattle is #22 in the nation); up a bit this year in West Seattle but overall crime and violent crime are both down more than 10 percent in our area, with the captain acknowledging COVID and the bridge closure play a role. Burglary is his other priority – he says there’s a current cluster in the Junction but overall they’re down 22 percent year to date.
Regarding Alki, he reiterated that he doesn’t have the budget for “emphasis patrols” but as we had reported hours before the meeting, the Parks Department is picking up the bill for three days a week, three hours a day, for the next two months. (Up to $27,000, Parks told WSB today.) He has told his night-watch commander to supplement with on-duty officers when possible. The gates will be closed at Don Armeni Boat Ramp at 10 pm and will reopen at 4:30 am, with the help of security working for Parks. They’re asking Traffic and Parking Enforcement to help out there too.
Lt. Ebinger said other problems they’re addressing include road rage, on the rise in bridge-detour traffic. There’s a moratorium on “moving RVs,” she said, but she’s working on help for those who need resources.
Danner spoke too. She said they’re planning to hold an online West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting this month online, August 18th (that group’s been on hiatus since the pandemic halted in-person meetings).
In Q&A, the meeting’s facilitator Phil Tavel said he had heard from Lowman Beach residents that they’ve been having problems. Capt. Grossman said that’s the first he’s heard of it. If the Parks-funded Alki Beach emphasis patrol needs to go check out that park too, he’s all for it. A nearby resident in attendance spoke up at that point and said that fireworks and other noise issues were a large part of the current problems. Deb Barker wondered if police have any idea who’s setting off the loud midnight blasts. No, he said, but it seems to be a citywide problem. Barker also asked about the staffing levels Grossman mentioned in this recent community message – is it true only 8 officers are on the street here at one time? Yes, sometimes, said Grossman. And, opening the door to discussion of public-safety transformation, he reiterated that he agrees there are some incidents in which a uniformed, armed officer is not necessary, so he hopes there’s a productive discussion about allocating resources. They’re understaffed, he believes, but also overtaxed with calls that could be handled in other ways.
Asked for more details about staffing, he said some officers have retired and some have resigned, and he isn’t expecting replacements – not necessarily because of the council vote but “other things are happening.” Randy Wiger from South Park, a Block Watch captain, said he believes this is indeed exactly the time for the conversation about policing; he also had harsh words for the police activity he saw during recent protests. David Hancock from the Admiral NA asked for more about how the department is addressing biased policing. Grossman said current processes to deal with bias situations are helpful and so are body-worn cameras. Overall, he said he doesn’t like the term “law enforcement” because that’s a small part of what they do.
South Park’s Aley Thompson asked how the precinct is addressing race/social justice issues. Capt. Grossman mentioned recent implicit-bias training. Lt. Ebinger added that it’s an issue important to her, as a person of color and an openly gay person, and if you experience problems, please bring them forward so they can be investigated.
WS Timebank’s Tamsen Spengler noted some people camping in The Triangle and wondered who’s handling that now, and whether LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) is available in West Seattle. There are two Community Police Team officers (including one who recently joined the team); Danner added that Community Service Officers have been hired but are still in training, and that the future of the department could affect what happens with them.
What happens if you’re having a problem with an officer at a scene and you believe it’s because of bias? Ask for a supervisor at the scene and/or contact the precinct, Grossman mentioned, though on followup he acknowledged there may be only one supervisor on duty for all of West Seattle. “If it’s an arrest situation you will see a supervisor (sergeant),” but if not, you probably won’t.
Said Tavel (who has worked as a public defender), while the captain and lieutenant were saying all the right things, there’s a very real problem with biased policing. He’s worried that the conversation will eventually ebb. What about a D1CN Town Hall on “defunding”? Tavel suggested. “What does the community want and need from a department that is unbiased?” Grossman said he’s all for “doing everything we can to humanize both sides” and that “vitriol” targeting anyone – not just police – ‘cuts me to the quick.” He says it’s vital to assume that people “on all sides” want things “to be better.” He said he wants to be “part of a society where people trust the police.” He also observed that inequity has led to our society seeming to be “coming apart at the seams” and that sometimes police are an easy scapegoat for that.
After some other dialogue – from the racist origins of policing, to the desire for reinvention, with Capt. Grossman saying he wants to see policing as of and for the community – facilitator Tavel said they’d pursue the possibility of a D1CN Town Hall-style conversation. In closing comments, Capt. Grossman said he appreciated the tough questions and “I appreciate you giving me the benefit of the doubt.” He insists he believes ‘some good can come out of” the “defunding” discussion. Lt. Ebinger added that she too is interested in “discussions with the community” on the future of local policing.
P.S. Two of the groups represented at the D1CN meeting have sent letters to the city about the police-budget cuts – the Fauntleroy NA and Alki CC.
WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE UPDATE: Task Force members Deb Barker and Aley Thompson were also at D1CN. Barker offered an update; we covered it all here. … D1CN’s been asked to sign onto a Port of Seattle-initiated letter to reiterate the importance of the bridge as a local/regional transportation lifeline.
COVID-19 RELIEF SUBCOMMITTEE: They’re drafting a community request for city aid in helping match neighbors in need with resources. Templates would be offered to neighborhood groups to send to the mayor (etc.).
The meeting began with community FYI’s, including:
DELRIDGE DAY, VIRTUAL EDITION: This Saturday, VIEWS is presenting a virtual edition of Delridge Day (the date that the event would have happened) – links to be announced. Then next month the organization will start presenting a series called “Chair Stories.”
EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS SURVEY: Cindi Barker promoted this city survey we featured recently (it’s still open).
LAND USE: Deb Barker noted that at 9:30 am August 12th, the City Council’s Land Use Committee will consider some changes that might affect zoning – watch for the agenda.
SOUTH PARK AFFORDABLE HOUSING? Next Tuesday, Aley Thompson said, there’s a meeting on this topic, including a potential future for the possible park site by the SP Bridge.
OUTDOOR BUSINESS SPACE: David Hancock is soliciting neighborhood feedback on the city initiative to make it easier for businesses to use sidewalk/curbside outdoor space.
NEXT MEETING: September 2nd, 7 pm, online.