By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
After last month’s cancellation, this month’s West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting had plenty to talk about. It happened online last night, moderated by Southwest Precinct crime-prevention coordinator Jennifer Danner and featuring precinct commander Capt. Kevin Grossman.
CRIME TRENDS: Data shows crime up 8 percent in West Seattle over last year, Capt. Grossman said, showing the SeaStat dashboard for Southwest Precinct stats.
Part of that: Violent crime is up 21 percent – mostly because of domestic violence, he said. Property crime is up 7 percent; the most-common types are burglaries, auto thefts, and arsons at encampments. (Those too have included domestic violence – here’s one example.) He’s working with the Arson/Bomb Squad to see if there’s anything more proactive they can do. The Junction is the current hotspot for property crimes, especially parking-garage storage area break-ins – if one burglar breaks into multiple storage units in a single garage, each one counts as a separate burglary.
STAFFING: Capt. Grossman repeated what he and precinct lieutenants have said at other meetings – that a third of the officers have been lost since he came to the SW Precinct last July.
Chief Adrian Diaz‘s decision to move specialty-unit officers to patrol didn’t help much. The precinct no longer has its own detective unit; that work is now centralized out of the East Precinct. Grossman disbanded the precinct’s Bicycle Squad because he needed those officers more to be in cars, answering 911 calls. He talked about the Anti-Crime Team being lost for the creation of the Community Response Group, though that citywide unit does provide some help, serving as a fourth shift of sorts, roaming the city depending on where there’s the most need. The precinct’s Community Police Team, he said, was lost as most of those officers retired; one sergeant remains in a role working on “a lot of long-term issues.” Overall, though, the number of people leaving SPD has slowed to a trickle, he said, and they’re getting some academy graduates, so the staffing picture is brightening a bit. Later in the meeting, an attendee question brought out some specifics about how many officers are on duty at a particular time. The three shifts are 3 am-noon, 11 am-8 pm, 7 pm-4 am. There are minimum numbers for each shift based on the usual call load – 8 for first, 10 for second, 9 for third. But on many shifts he has to bring in officers on OT just to hit the mimimum. Seldom does he have someone extra. And just one high-risk call, say a domestic-violence incident, might take the entire contingent of officers who are on duty at that time.
ALKI BEACH: Racing is an increasing challenge, with “club racing groups on the rise,” Grossman said. He’s received permission to “upstaff” Alki, with extra officers on overtime, on the weekends as needed; the State Patrol is the racing-emphasis lead, and that’s why they were involved one recent weekend. Regarding the beach overall, he warned, “I’m going to be honest, it’s going to be a challenge … we’ll have to monitor it, (also) to be sure the Parks Department is onboard assisting us as much as they can.”
WESTWOOD VILLAGE: The shopping center remains the precinct’s top 911 call location, “a big draw on resources.” Lots of theft that’s not just shoplifting but also “organized retail theft – they’re doing it for a living.” For example, according to Grossman, Ulta Beauty is losing “thousands of dollars a day (in product) walking out their door.” Historically SPD has had some challenges working with the center and chain retailers there but Grossman says Westwood Village has had a management change and now they’re enthusiastic about working with police, so they’re building that relationship and working on prevention as well as information-sharing between businesses so they can avoid “the same crew vicitimizing multiple stores.”
JASON TURNER: The case of this repeat mail-theft suspect – arrested last Sunday for the 7th time this year, charged Monday – is “frustrating.” So far Turner hasn’t “risen to the level where the feds are interested” in taking over the case, Grossman said, noting that though a postal inspector has interviewed Turner, USPIS is not interested in the case so far, so it’s up to SPD and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. In Grossman’s view, it appears “there are some mental health issues … I’d rather get him some help.” So he’s working with KCPAO to try to get his case into Mental Health Court so there’s dome enforced treatment; they’ve also made a referral to LEAD, which could get him housing and food, so he’s not stealing as subsistence. “I’m hoping we can intervene and stop the cycle. … We don’t want to keep arresting him, we’d rather see him stop stealing mail. He doesn’t seem to understand that what he’s doing is wrong.” Grossman has committed to showing up at Turner’s first appearance “to try to persuade the judge to at least try to keep him in custody so we can get all these things in place.”
COMMUNITY QUESTIONS: This is always the main event of a WSCPC meeting – attendees have lots of time to ask the SPD rep(s) about general concerns and/or specific cases.
Any followup in the shooting near Roxhill Park? Short answer: No.
What should people do about traffic collisions when no one’s hurt but there’s significant damage? If there’s no crime and no one’s hurt, police may not be needed – “we end up working for the insurance companies” in those incidents,, he observed.
Other issues – “homelessness issues are no longer police issues,” Grossman noted, as he and others have also said at other meetings. If there’s a concern in a park, it’s Parks, if there’s a concern on a sidewalk, it’s SDOT, if it’s a concern related to RV camping, it’s Seattle Public Utilities. Otherwise, it’s up to the Human Services Department. If a crime is being committed, though, he clarified – whether an unhoused or housed person – that’s a 911 call.
Driver issues – Speeding? No plates? “That’s not something we have the bandwidth to respond to.” Stranger on the front porch? That could be a 911 call. Someone with mental-health issues? If someone is a threat to themselves or someone else, there’s a law that allows police to get them taken to the hospital. If it doesn’t rise to that level, there are other options for getting them some help.
THOUGHTS ON THE MINNEAPOLIS VERDICT: The meeting began just a few hours after a former officer was found guilty of murdering George Floyd while on duty last May. Grossman started with his thoughts, including: “I’ve been a police officer for 25 years and when I saw the video, I said to myself ‘that shouldn’t happen’ … for my colleagues I talk to informally, I was heartened that they were all on the same page … professionally it causes me to double down on my efforts to make policing a better profession, even more resolute that my profession is worthy of the public’s trust.” He said he sits down with every new officer for a chat and tells them “policing is a service organization.” Also, “that everyone deserves dignity, no matter what they’re accused of, they’re all human beings who deserve dignity.”
The West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meets third Tuesdays most months, lately at 6 pm online.