VIDEO: Questions, answers, updates as community members and police talked face-to-face at West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting

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.”

20 Replies to "VIDEO: Questions, answers, updates as community members and police talked face-to-face at West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting"

  • flimflam November 18, 2022 (7:00 am)

    Wow, so anything under $2000 isn’t being pursued? I may need to reconsider all these hours I’m working…

    • WSB November 18, 2022 (6:29 pm)

      I asked KCPAO about that and am adding the reply to the end of the story.

  • Sasquatch November 18, 2022 (7:23 am)

    it is abundantly clear that they are running on empty. My sympathy goes out to all of the hard-working law-enforcement officers. It must be very stressful having all of these demands for public safety and not enough people to do the work.

  • Scarlett November 18, 2022 (7:31 am)

    We’re not going back to romanticized nostalgia about the past where could leave your door unlocked.   Society is now a far more uglyDarwinian struggle to survive and upward mobility has vanished for millions, difficult already and now they have to deal with inflation.  Living shuld be more than surviving, it should be about thriving.  Nothing wrong with personal responsibility, but you puncture hopes of a better future and you have a desperate, uncaring society.   There has been a lot a chatter about RCV and I’ll say this:  I don’t want a safe, cautious candidate trying to appeal and pander to me,  afraid to stray from one SD from the mean, I want a candidate who will challenge me and come up with innovative solution and approach a problem at a different angle, even if it forces me to rethink some of my assumptions.  

  • Bill November 18, 2022 (8:09 am)

    Seems like when we “defunded the police” we forgot to tell them what to keep spending money on.   How do we lose “anti-crime” and “traffic” teams.  Those are the things the police were supposed to have continued doing. It was the mental health calls that were supposed to get handled by mental health professionals.  @WSB it would be really interesting to hear what the city has done with all the “defund” money.  How are our mental health services today vs. 2020?

    • WSB November 18, 2022 (11:38 am)

      There isn’t “all the ‘defund’ money.” Police have funding for all the open positions. They just haven’t had an easy time hiring (nationwide problem, which is why myriad public-safety agencies are offering bonuses to basically steal away other agencies’ officers). The specialty units were lost when SPD started reassigning people to patrol duty to make sure there was somebody to respond to 911 calls. (This began more than 2 years ago: https://westseattleblog.com/2020/09/happening-now-chief-mayor-explain-seattle-police-staffing-changes )

    • Lauren November 18, 2022 (4:40 pm)

      Once more for the people in the back: **The Seattle police were never defunded.**

      • Chuck Jacobs November 18, 2022 (9:18 pm)

        ‘50% was a mistake’: Seattle City Council abandoned the idea of defunding police“On the heels of weeks of sustained protests against police brutality, spurred by the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020, a majority of the Seattle City Council committed to a series of police reform ideas proposed by activists, including cutting the city’s then-$409 million police budget in half. The money divested from SPD was to be spent on alternative responses to some emergency calls and other community services.But it never happened.Two years since the commitment was made, the department’s budget has been reduced by roughly 13% — primarily by moving $45.4 million in traffic enforcement, 911 dispatch and other services out of SPD’s budget and into those of other departments — and most council members now denounce the idea of defunding the police, focusing instead on finding alternative responses to emergency calls.”

  • scofflaw November 18, 2022 (10:27 am)

     “She reiterated that there’s no Traffic Unit in SPD any more.”Who’d have guessed?

    • Odd son November 18, 2022 (10:16 pm)

      I know right? It’s really dangerous to drive because many have no fear of getting caught breaking laws. The 65 mph crasher the other night is the latest example. A lot of bad driving habits are beginning and being reinforced in this era .

  • Daniel November 18, 2022 (10:29 am)

    Thanks for such a thorough recap. I watched the whole thing via the online broadcast hoping to get an update on the homicide on 17th and other recent incidents. I think she said she would have to follow up with the detectives. Hoping we get an update at some point. 

  • WS Resident November 18, 2022 (1:22 pm)

    Thanks WS Blog for the coverage.- as always!  I didn’t know that 911 was no longer operated by SPD (if I got that right). Agree with Sasquatch that they are doing their best running on empty.  Hoping that folks will continue to report illegal camping, blocking of sidewalks, garbage overflow etc. to the Find it Fix it app because they really need those reports to act and assign urgency. 

  • Joe Z November 18, 2022 (1:23 pm)

    Nobody wants to work for SPD because of cultural issues. This has been well documented. The question the community should be asking is “Why is it undesirable to work for SPD and what is being done to remedy that?”

    • Flo B November 18, 2022 (4:34 pm)

      Joe-Z. INCORRECT. “Cultural issues” might be a small part, but the REALITY is that law enforcement isn’t a career choice for a lot of people. Was on a Panama Canal cruise in April. At dinner my table mates ALL were commenting that their police agencies needed and wanted officers but were having a hard time recruiting. My table mates were from: New York City; Anápolis Maryland; Tulsa Oklahoma and Panama City Florida. 

    • Question Authority November 18, 2022 (7:03 pm)

      More like the culture of perception that was created by the City Council, one that discounted efforts and made unwelcome statements in an effort to be hip.

  • KT November 18, 2022 (2:17 pm)

    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.   Seattle government has given up.  

  • Scooter November 18, 2022 (2:20 pm)

    So “Davison stressed what has been said time and time again – please report it.”  Yet, the City has taken away a primary way to report crimes ie they no longer answer the non-emergency line.  Saying “just call 911” isn’t an answer as many/most people are not going to call 911 to report a non -emergency crime.  So the police don’t receive a report and it’s not forwarded to the prosecutor and even if it is they have a 5,000 case backlog.  Let’s face it this whole system is broken.  

  • Ex-Westwood Resident November 18, 2022 (4:47 pm)

    “Why is it undesirable to work for SPD and what is being done to remedy that?”

    As a LEO, I can shed some light on that. No one wants to work where they have NO SUPPORT from their “Bosses.”  Seattle City Council does NOT support, in any manner SPD and, to a certain extent, neither does the King County Prosecutors Office. THAT isn’t going to change with the election of Satterberg’s protege, Mannion. 

    • Lagartija Nick November 18, 2022 (5:40 pm)

      There’s a reason SPD was placed under a consent decree by the DOJ and it had nothing to do with the city council. Maybe if LEO’s spent more time looking within their ranks for why nobody wants to work there instead of blaming everyone and everything else we might be able to solve this issue.

  • AdmyrlByrd November 18, 2022 (8:42 pm)

    So many non-answers or – worse – ones that are just “white flags”.    Yes, police careers are less desirable nationwide, but we have to admit we created a culture of hostility towards officers, ambivalence to enforcement and tolerance for certain level of crimes.  This has led to a sense of lawlessness i don’t get when I visit other cities.It can change.  It must change.   Remember this in City Council elections in 2023

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