By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
If you use West Seattle’s only dog park, the Westcrest Park Off-Leash Area, you’ve benefited from the work of Steve McElhenney, who’s been the volunteer steward there for two decades.
He’s given thousands of hours. But one of the gifts he’s tried recently to give – the gift of safety – has been roundly rejected. And he’s furious.
As has been reported in West Seattle Crime Watch coverage here over the years, Westcrest is a car-prowl hot spot. (Here’s just one of dozens of reports we’ve published.) McElhenney says he’s tried to get extra police attention there. But, he’s been told – as precinct leadership has said at countless community meetings – they’re shorthanded. (Back in February, the precinct said they’d try for extra patrols, but nothing’s been mentioned since then.) So he tried something else, something countless people are using on their own porches, decks, and yards: A camera.
A few months ago, he bought what he refers to as a “trail camera,” the kind used to watch wildlife, among other things. He put it about 15 feet up a tree with a view of the parking lot used most often by off-leash-area visitors, at 5th and Cloverdale.
He set it for “motion,” not continuous recording. He even camouflaged it a bit, painting it black and arranging some leaves.
It caught some car prowlers in action, McElhenney says. When it did, he printed out the images of thieves and their vehicles and posted them on the park’s kiosk, to ask that park users watch out for those particular people/vehicles. He says he tried to take the images to police, too, but had no luck.
This week, the project came to a halt. Someone from Seattle Parks found the camera and removed it, also taking down the images posted on the kiosk, McElhenney says. He wasn’t at the park when this happened, but says a park regular who knew the camera was his intercepted the Parks employee and recovered it.
When asked why, the Parks employee is reported to have said, “It’s illegal.” As is the car prowling, McElhenney retorts. One particular day, he recalls, 7 smash-and-grabs were reported. “And now they’ve taken away our only line of defense.”
We asked Seattle Parks about it. While spokesperson Christina Hirsch didn’t have information on this particular situation, she said, “Under current City laws, we’re not allowed to have surveillance cameras outdoors in parks.” And as for removing what was posted at the kiosks, “Staff monitor park kiosks when they have time and remove inappropriate content, usually advertisements for private businesses. We cannot have folks posting images from unauthorized cameras in parks, and staff would remove that content.”
McElhenney says the photos were also posted on social media, but that doesn’t necessarily reach everyone who uses the park, and isn’t comparable to catching the eye of someone when they’re right there at the park and might be able to look around for potential repeat prowlers. The signs in the photo at the top of the story are also his work and still up – for now.
He’s most frustrated because his ultimate goal is to make West Seattle’s only dog park safer, for his fellow visitors. “It’s THEIR park … I want them to know they can come to the park and feel safe.”
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