By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The shrinking sworn staff of the Seattle Police Department doesn’t just mean fewer officers on the street. There are also ripple effects, as was evidenced in a public-safety discussion convened at noontime today by the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce.
Two examples: One participant mentioned going to the Southwest Precinct with an urgent matter and having to wait a long time for an officer since the lobby was closed and locked. Another, responding to precinct commander Capt. Martin Rivera‘s plea to report all crimes, said he tries, but “your online-reporting system sucks.”
Along with Capt. Rivera, today’s online meeting was headlined by the two city councilmembers whose divergent proposals for boosting SPD hiring were the subject of impassioned discussion at this past Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee (WSB coverage here), West Seattle/South Park Councilmember Lisa Herbold – who chairs that committee – and citywide Councilmember Sara Nelson. Our area’s King County Councilmember Joe McDermott was there too but not as a panelist. Here’s what happened:
First, introductory remarks. Councilmember Herbold acknowledged that “staffing rates at the Seattle Police Department continue to go down” and noted the briefing at this past Tuesday’s meeting. From the staffing report given during that meeting (see it here), 968 fully trained officers were in service at the end of the first quarter. She also said that crime rates are up. The number of dispatched 911 calls, however, is down. Shots-fired calls are continuing to go up. Homicides are down overall. The council is also “continuing our work in what calls can be shifted away” from SPD response, and a report is due in her committee next month. She reiterates that the council “fully funded” the SPD hiring plan for this year – but since departures continue, those positions haven’t all been filled. She also touted an expansion of community-service officer staffing and technology improvements, among other things. And she touted budgetary support for “Before the Badge” training before new officers enter the academy.
Aside from police staffing, Herbold said her committee also has heard presentations on retail theft, the SPD Strategic Plan, a City Attorney presentation on that office’s case backlog, and more. Regarding police hiring incentives, she mentioned the analysis provided by the mayor’s office (in this report), saying that hiring bonuses were not recommended, but the mayor’s office is promising a “comprehensive package” and she’s waiting to see it. She also again mentioned her proposal to compensate transferring-in (“lateral hires”) police (and people in other critical city jobs) for moving costs. In other issues, she noted the council and mayor’s recent letter to the feds supporting “safe banking” for cannabis businesses.
Regarding alternatives to policing, the 988 hotline launches in July, and will offer references to resources such as “mobile crisis teams, next-day appointments,” but it needs more investment, Herbold said. The city has scaled up its mobile crisis teams, she added, and the state has contributed some money. Back to 911 analysis, SPD is looking at what calls don’t require armed responses, and she’s expecting the results of that “any day now.” The Health One and Triage One responders are being implemented. She’s meeting with the mayor’s office about some of this tomorrow.
Finally, Herbold mentioned working with state legislators this past session, including testifying in support of some gun control legislation – including the high-capacity-magazine ban and ghost-gun restrictions – and in support of the catalytic-converter-theft bill that passed.
Next, Councilmember Nelson spoke. She ran through what she’s been doing in her four months in office “in chronological order.” In responding to constituent communication, she said the major message she’s getting is that “people are extremely concerned about crime.” She said it’s the “biggest concern (she’s) hearing about’ from small businesses, so she had a roundtable discussion in February that resulted in recommendations. She’s working with the mayor’s office on next steps, including assistance to pay for damaged doors and windows.
Because of the crime stats, Nelson said, in March she proposed a resolution to “bring new police officers on line as quickly as possible.” Being down 300+ officers means “we’ve lost about 27 percent of our force in service,” she said,. Her resolution includes spending the unfilled-jobs salary savings on hiring incentives. She noted that Herbold declined to co-sponsor her resolution but said she has some differences of opinion with the moving-expenses-etc. bill Herbold proposed instead, so Nelson is working on a different bill that does not get as specific regarding which incentives can be offered and how much money can be spent.
As for the “differences,” Nelson contended that limiting spending on hiring incentives to $650,000 out of $4 million in salary savings “sends the wrong message.” She said she ‘trusts the people who know what other cities are doing” and said that “almost every other city” is offering a police-hiring incentive. She said she’s “adamant … that public safety is our top priority … that’s what we have to be focused on.” And she disagrees with Herbold’s contention that hiring incentives should be looked at city government-wide, because the police-staffing crisis ‘is of a whole other magnitude.” She said, “let’s be real, incentives aren’t a magic bullet … providing a positive work environment for our existing officers’ will help; she said that expressing gratitude and appreciation would be helpful.
Next to speak was Captain Rivera. He took over the Southwest Precinct last fall. Crime deterrence and getting guns “off the streets” are priorities set by interim Chief Adrian Diaz, Rivera said. At the precinct, they’re focused on “real-time crime response” – but “our resources are a little thin right now.” The communication center sets the priorities for which calls they’ll be sent to, he noted. “I am making sure we are responding to calls as quick as possible.” He said he’s also ‘setting a tone of professionalism.” He’s asking officers “to follow up with our community members and our businesses. .. Some other entities are coming into play that will help with disorder, but right now, we are all we have.” But he insisted, “We are out there, we are cognizant of what’s happening.” Regarding encampments, they are advocating for “responses.”
In Q&A, an attendee asked about the longrunning Andover RV encampment. “How can I best advocate to have some action taken there?” Rivera said there’s a person in the precinct dedicated to photographing and documenting what’s happening at encampments and providing that information to others in city government. “We do deal with criminal elements” directly – everything else is referred elsewhere, Herbold jumped in, saying that for “three years now I’ve been working to bring this location to the attention of the previous mayor, the current mayor, other departments … The issue is that as a lawmaker I can lift your voices, I can’t do anything (directly).” She mentioned the city’s decision not to enforce 72-hour parking during the pandemic, and that SDOT has started enforcing but (as we’ve reported) only for “obviously abandoned vehicles.” Herbold said she believes it’s reasonable to ask even people who live in their vehicles to move them. She mentioned SPD responses to the Andover encampment, SPU trash collection and periodic remediations there (as covered here), plus the pump-out program. But the mayor’s office and others are ‘still not moving forward” in enforcing 72-hour moving rules for RV residents, The State Supreme Court case regarding vehicle dwelling doesn’t prohibit them from enforcing it but it prohibits vehicles that have been towed/impounded from being auctioned. So that’s what the mayor’s office is working on, she said. adding that she’s been advocating for a safe-lot program or a way to store RVs. She got $750,000 approved for this and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority has an RFP for it. She said she is also trying to arrange for the KCRHA to go see it.
Where else can she advocate? asked the attendee. The mayor’s office, replied the Chamber’s Dan Austin, and they’re working on that. Nelson interjected that mental-health and substance-abuse resources are important too, in addition to what Herbold had mentioned.
Austin wondered when the precinct will reopen to the public, saying he and someone with an urgent situation involving a missing person went to the precinct but had to wait outside a locked door for 45+ minutes, Rivera said he’s trying to get the desk position staffed so they can reopen the lobby. Are they understaffed? he was asked flat-out. Yes, 5 to 6 officers short on every watch, Rivera said. They also have lost specialized officers such as detectives and Community Police Team officers, which dates back to Chief Diaz shuffling specialty-unit members into general 911 response to keep that covered. Regarding the Southwest Precinct’s specific staffing shortfall that we noted in our report last week, Herbold said she’s trying to get answers” to the questions we sent while working on it. Herbold added that Chief Diaz had told her committee that members of the Citywide Response Group are augmenting staffing at the precincts, and she’s asked the Chief’s office for an update on use of the CRG in the SW Precinct.)
Another question: What about Westwood Village, since it’s consistently in the city’s list of highest-crime spots? Capt. Rivera said, “We had an emphasis patrol there for six or seven months” – Danner jumped in, said she’s done two walkthroughs with the shopping center’s new property management and that they’re starting a business block watch. Rivera said they are trying to focus on repeat offenders and their precinct city-attorney liaison is too.
What about jail booking limitations? Herbold noted that only certain types of defendants can be booked – the High Utilizer program is seeking to get an exception from that to book certain people that come to their attention. Rivera stressed that every crime needs to be reported – if it’s not reported, they don’t hear about it, because they’re data-driven, and staffing relies on stats.
That’s when Keith Hughes, who owns a business as well as managing American Legion Post 160 in The Triangle and its co-housed West Seattle Veterans Center and emergency shelter, says he attempts to report every crime – but “your reporting system online sucks” and doesn’t cover much of what he attempts to report. It “doesn’t allow a way to report things that don’t fit the check boxes” like “the same guy who breaks windows in the same building over and over and over again and you know his name… get this guy off the streets! I’ve spent $3000 replacing windows.” Capt. Rivera said, “if you can’t report it online, call 911 and report it live. … (tell them) ‘we need these things reported’.” Nelson said that what Hughes mentioned was something that had come up at her roundtable, an easier way to report, maybe via Find It Fix It.
After a few words of wrap-up, Chamber moderator Lindsay Wolpa and CEO Whitney Moore wrapped up the meeting close to the one-hour mark; as with the council-committee meeting on Tuesday, it was clear this one could have continued far beyond the time allotted. The Chamber promised to keep a spotlight on the topic.