By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Encampment and police updates comprised most of last night’s Southwest Precinct Crime Prevention Council meeting, plus community Q&A.
The group, chaired by Melody Sarkies, meets monthly as an open opportunity to talk with and hear from police and featured guests. Last night, Tom Van Bronkhorst, a city official who has long been involved with homelessness response, was the guest.
As we reported late last night, he announced toward the end of the meeting that the Harbor Avenue RV encampment is set for another sweep in late February. But he was there mostly to discuss the far-bigger encampment at 2nd/Michigan, near the 1st Avenue South Bridge, following up on the revelation at the last SWPCPC meeting that a sweep had been planned and then called off. Officially, he’s on the Seattle Parks payroll, but he participates in the Unified Care Team meetings at which priorities and planned cleanups are discussed.
Van Bronkhorst said he’s been to the encampment several times and that it’s a large site – an acre and a half – including property owned by multiple jurisdictions, the state (WSDOT), city (SDOT), and Port of Seattle. “We’ve been aware of this location for quite a while,” he noted, reminding the group that sweeps were largely halted during the height of the pandemic, going back to 2020.
He said some action has been taken – 25 tons of debris removal dating back to last July, including vehicles. The most-recent removal, he said, was in mid-January, totaling 400 pounds. Currently, outreach teams are working at the site on behalf of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. But Van Bronkhorst reiterated multiple times that he doesn’t know when exactly it will be “resolved … things are very fluid right now.” Among other reasons, they don’t know how long it will take to conduct outreach, but whenever that’s finally over, he said, debris removal will follow on a large scale – “might take several days or longer” – and then the site would have to be “secured.” Exactly how that will be done, he said, hasn’t been finalized yet, but part of the site is a street-end park that could be returned to that use. He indicated that if people return to a swept site, tent campers can be immediately told to leave, without a new outreach/notification process (vehicles would get 72 hours).
In response to an attendee’s question, Van Bronkhorst acknowledged that outreach moves slowly because people don’t initially accept offers of shelter; he said the initial acceptance rate tends toward 20 percent, but then the sweep day arrives – with trucks and other heavy equipment – and people change their mind.
Why did the previously planned removal not happen? Van Bronkhorst’s take was that the multiple agencies involved had a plan but then took another look at the size and magnitude of the situation and realized “we’re gonna need a bigger boat” as well as more time to coordinate. He also suggested that December had not been a good time to plan a large-scale sweep because of “schedules.”
Is the state really cooperating with the cleanup plan? Van Bronkhorst said that WSDOT “has been much more engaged” with this type of matter in the past year, and Gov. Inslee has expressed more of an interest in clearing encampments on state-owned right-of-way. “They have different priorities …but have named this a pretty high priority .,. I think they’re moving toward resolution pretty steadily.”
From there, the Q/A moved to attendees’ questions and concerns about other situations, such as the perennial question about the best way to report encampments; Van Bronkhorst offered the perennial answer – Find It Fix It, or call the city’s Customer Service Bureau. Currently, he noted, the city is dealing with more than 700 “active encampment sites” citywide. A report, he said, would eventually lead to a site inspection and an evaluation for factors that would prioritize it – such as, is it near a school, is it blocking traffic. Then it would go onto a list.
If an encampment is in a park, Parks is empowered to remove it “quickly,” both Van Bronkhorst and Operations Lt. Dorothy Kim said. That came up in the context of a Lincoln Park concern – a nearby resident who’s long been harassed by someone believed to be camping in the area. Lt. Kim said police have been looking for him and have been unable to find him so far. Someone wondered if that was the same person who was reported to be threatening people with a knife at the park earlier in the day; no one seemed to be certain. Also regarding the issue of camping in parks, Lt. Kim said the latest tent in view at Rotary Viewpoint Park (35th/Alaska) should be cleared quickly (although an attendee said it had been reported a week ago). A site near the precinct was mentioned; at least part of it, Lt. Kim thought, was on private property.
POLICE UPDATES: After that discussion and the Harbor Avenue announcement, it was Lt. Kim’s turn (as Operations Lieutenant, she is second in command at the precinct). She said the biggest news was the citywide change in officer scheduling, It had been mentioned at recent community meetings, and took effect this week, as announced here. Lt. Kim offered a few more details than had been featured in the citywide announcement: First watch is now 4 am-2 pm, second watch is 11 am-9 pm, third watch is 7 pm-5 am. The overlap at first/second watch will especially “work well for us,” she said. She also said this means there will be one day each week that every single patrol officer will be on duty, and that should mean they have extra officers to assign to “emphasis patrols” in trouble spots. They’re hopeful, she said, that the new schedule also will make working for SPD more appealing both for those in the department now and those who might come to work for them.
On two other staffing matters, Lt. Kim said the non-emergency line – 206-625-5011 – is being answered again. As for the precinct lobby, the front desk was being staffed for a while, she said, but the new schedule change has put every officer back on the street; she said they hope to reopen the lobby, at least on weekdays, with an officer who’ll soon be returning on “limited duty.” Danner said that before you come to the precinct, try calling its direct number – 206-733-9800 – to check. (But don’t call that number to report an emergency – that’s always 911.)
In crime trends, she said auto thefts are still up, locally and citywide. She and Crime Prevention Coordinator Jennifer Danner both mentioned the ongoing social-media-fueled trend of Kia and Hyundai thefts, and Danner said a crime-prevention “bulletin” about this will be out soon, specifying which models are susceptible and what to do about it. She also said she’s obtained another grant to offer “clubs” for free and will be announcing that soon.
Danner also said she’s been working with West Seattle Junction businesses in the wake of recent crimes there including burglaries and robberies.
What about the recent gunfire incidents? In South Park – which is also covered by the Southwest Precinct – many recent incidents were linked to one specific house, Lt. Kim said, but in West Seattle, they haven’t found any particular linkage between events. If you find casings, do report it to police – Lt. Kim noted that sometimes they’ll get 911 calls about possible gunfire, they’ll go look around but it’s hard to spot evidence in the dark, then the next day someone finds casings, and they can cross-reference that to a report from that area. The evidence all goes into a system to check for whether it’s related to other incidents.
TIME CHANGE: Starting in March, the SWPCPC meetings will start an hour earlier, at 6 pm. So the next meeting – held at the precinct but with a video link too if you would rather attend that way – will be at 6 pm March 9th.
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