By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
For the first time in more than two and a half years, tonight the Southwest Precinct meeting room was filled with community members there to hear from and talk with local police.
This was technically the return of the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council, but for several years the council was really just whoever showed up for the meetings, plus longtime chair Richard Miller. Tonight the precinct’s Crime Prevention Coordinator Jennifer Danner announced Melody Sarkies as the WSCPC’s new chair. And with that, the meeting was off and running. We recorded it on video – first, here are the introductions, and the first speaker, the precinct’s Operations Lt. Dorothy Kim:
If you don’t have time to watch the video, here’s our summary of what Lt. Kim said:
PRECINCT UPDATES: Current focuses include the Harbor Ave. and 2nd/Michigan (near the 1st Avenue South Bridge) encampments. She said some “firm dates” are set for cleanup of the latter – which had to be worked out with state agencies since it’s state land (this was pointed out to us last time we asked the city homelessness-response spokesperson about plans for that area). She said it’s more a “criminal enterprise” site than an encampment. “We all know what’s going on there … but with staffing issues,” they haven’t been able to do much. So rather than put a longterm investigation into motion, they’re just going to “clean it up.” She also explained how encampment reports are handled in the Find It Fix It system – they’re assigned a point value, and certain sites, such as those in parks and near schools, get higher point values. Then a city team. goes out to offer services; after that the city interdepartmental team, which meets weekly, will talk about what resources are needed for the cleanup. … Lt. Kim also noted that the summertime Alki “emphasis patrol” is over so now they’ve moved those resources to Westwood Village and are putting officers there at times determined by data or the past two years. She said WWV’s new management is “responsive to law enforcement.” Regarding staffing, Lt. Kim said “it’s challenging” – 10 new officer recruits are in the pipeline and she says the Southwest Precinct probably won’t get any of them. Currently they’re continuing to “augment” – volunteers working double shifts to bring staffing to minimum levels – but she notes that’s voluntary – “at some point that’s not sustainable.” She reiterated that there’s no Traffic Unit in SPD any more, a bare-bones motorcycle unit that generally deals with “big events.”
CITY ATTORNEY: Ann Davison (above) was the second speaker. That’s where the rest of our meeting video begins, followed by our summary:
She says she’s been to the precinct previously to speak to SPD roll calls. “We are closing in on my first year of being in office,” she noted. She said she “walked into a 5,000-case backlog” of cases waiting for months on charging decisions. That sent the wrong message to both victims and suspects, she said.
She said they “handled those separately” (dropping thousands of them), then implemented a policy to make decisions more quickly, “close-in-time” – a goal of five days before deciding how to handle a case. “It is a holistic view we have to take” – both why the criminal commits the crime, and how the victim is affected. She said they’ve achieved that target time frame. “It is one aspect of the public-safety system.” That system, she explained, is often mystifying to people, but “what we’re trying to do is educate everybody.” The CAO handles misdemeanor crime. She said she explains it as a relay race – SPD is the first leg, then hands it off to CAO – the second leg. “We can’t do anything unless we get that referral.” The third leg is “our recommendation” to the courts – prosecution, alternative programs, for example. Their focuses include, what can they do with the resources they have? “What can we do to be creative?” So, she said, they decided to look at “who are we seeing most frequently?” – the High-Utilizer Initiative. “What do they need” so they don’t cycle through over and over again – at least 12 referrals in past five years, one in past eight months. The challenges include COVID restrictions at the jail, so they’ve had to work on that. She said they’ve incorporated more data in ways it hasn’t been used before – “a deep dive of the data that was there.” Previously, the criminal division was acting more or less in the dark, she said. She also noted that when the City Council asked them to report on demographics of defendants, she insisted on also reporting demographics of victims, “for the whole picture.”
Referring to what Lt. Kim had mentioned, she said she’d been out to 2nd/Michigan, talking to business owners. The CAO’s precinct liaison Joe Everett (who, as shown in our video, was also at the meeting) has been coordinating ways to work on that – “it is unacceptable not to have that taken care of.”
QUESTIONS/ANSWERS: They asked people to sign up if they wanted to ask a question (some also were asked by those attending via videoconference). First Q: Is the city bureaucracy taking any steps to more equally enforce the Seattle Municipal Code? asked someone who described himself as “in the middle of the whole RV issue.” Davison said she “doesn’t have a lot of patience” but says she’ll “focus on where I can create influence on that.”
Second Q: Catalytic-converter theft – is any progress being made? Lt. Kim said “that’s a hard one, it can happen so quickly,” but there is likely nothing much being done about it because of staffing issues. The precinct for example used to have its own Anti-Crime Team that could be assigned to something like that. “Right now most of our emphasis patrols are … gun violence reduction patrols.” Jennifer Danner said she and her colleagues on the Crime Prevention team of SPD is looking at hosting an engraving event. The questioner said that wouldn’t deter thieves.
Third Q: Followup on the high-utilizer initiative – by “referrals,” Davison clarified, that meant information about criminal charges. The question-asker said his neighborhood reported a “one-man crime wave” in a situation that took hours to get police response. He was ultimately arrested for DUI, the questioner said. Danner said if there is a particular ongoing neighborhood situation, you can contact her to see if they can work with the community to “get to the bottom of it.” Lt. Kim talked about recent teamwork after the arrest of a prolific shoplifter.
Fourth Q: A six-time burglary victim said she hadn’t reported an incident because “the police department doesn’t do anything.” She noted building materials out in the street on Harbor Avenue tonight posing a safety hazard. Lt. Kim said they should call 911 about that obstruction – a person said they did and “got the runaround.” Lt. Kim noted that 911 has become a separate entity, no longer part of the Police Department, and is still working things out, compounded by staffing issues. The attendee who called said, “It was so frustrating.” Danner and Kim said they’ll look into what happened, because it’s a matter of safety. Back on the matter of something that hadn’t been reported, Davison stressed what’s been said time and time again – PLEASE report it, because everyone from SPD to the CAO needs that data. It’s how they distribute staffing, among other things.
Fifth Q: The Harbor RVs went away, came back, went away, now they’re back again. “It’s the same group, same operation, what’s the plan?” Lt. Kim said that group is “pretty hardcore” and knows how to work the 72-hour system. She said a city group met and is talking about putting Harbor Ave on a “top 10 list” where it would get repeatedly addressed. They bring it up at the citywide group meeting (MDAR) every week, she added. Another attendee noted that the RVs got tagged by Parking Enforcement again today, two weeks after the most recent such action. Lt. Kim said they’re waiting for guidance – asked whose guidance,
Sixth Q: Any word on when the non-emergency line will be answered again? No, so Lt. Kim said they’re just recommending people call 911.
Seventh Q: Is it true that misdemeanor assault won’t be prosecuted? No, that’s not true, said Davison, while stressing again that felony assaults (and other felonies) are the purview of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Lt Kim noted that detectives generally only follow up on felonies – misdemeanors go directly to the CAO. Somebody asked for a clarification about what a misdemeanor is. Replied Davison, a lower classification of crime – theft for example is $750 limit but the county is not pursuing anything below $2000 (we’ll be doublechecking that with KCPAO). Ultimately, Everett noted, it’s up to the State Legislature to define crime classifications and potential penalties.
Eighth question: Are people really not getting arrested because they won’t get booked into jail? Not necessarily, said Davison, but jail policies do factor into who’s booked and who isn’t. Who do we talk to about that? asked the attendee. King County Executive Dow Constantine, was the reply. Everett also pointed out that just because someone’s not arrested immediately does not mean they won’t be charged – the case may still be referred to prosecutors. (That goes for both misdemeanors and felonies.)
One person did ask about recent homicide cases, and Lt. Kim said she didn’t have any additional information.,
Before the meeting wrapped, there was a question about the new 988 emergency line for behavioral-health crises. No one knew much about that either, but there was a mention of a potential levy next year for behavioral-health resources.
NEXT MEETING: Thursday, January 12, 7 pm.
ADDED FRIDAY: As promised, we followed up with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to see if it’s true they don’t file felonies for thefts below $2,000. Here’s how spokesperson Casey McNerthney responded:
“In 2021, we shared with law enforcement that our filing threshold for some property crimes would increase to $2,000 (previous filings standards were $1,000, and the law outlines $750).
The dollar amount for felony crimes hadn’t been changed since 2008 and didn’t adjust for inflation. (When those were written Amazon had just announced it was moving to South Lake Union, and the median home price has tripled since then.)
But maybe the most important point: Even with that change, we can and do deviate from the filing standards – particularly when there are extenuating circumstances described by law enforcement.”