By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
As community organizations resume regular meeting schedules for fall, the Admiral Neighborhood Association had public safety high on the agenda last night.
The meeting at Admiral Church, facilitated by ANA president Joanie Jacobs, had two major guests – the Southwest Precinct‘s new third-watch commander, and City Attorney Ann Davison.
POLICE: Lt. Joe Hadley now oversees the 7 pm to 5 am shift (“third watch”) and said he most recently worked with the Office of Police Accountability. He said they’re bringing back the Community Police Team (an officer with that assignment accompanied him). Lt. Hadley opened the floor quickly to Q&A.
First question: How’s the staffing? “It’s rough,” he replied. The goal remains to hire about 100 officers a year “but I don’t thin we’re going to make that this year.” The 4/10 schedule change has made SPD more attractive for “laterals” – trained officers coming from other police departments. “Our previous schedule was horrible” (four days on, two days off). “The chief has made it a priority to improve morale, improve retention, entic(e) folks to come work here.” The recent consent-decree announcement isn’t going to change anything short-term, he said.
Overall, the SPD guests said, stats through the end of August show burglaries down from last year, while auto thefts continue to rise. If you have a theft-prone Kia or Hyundai, they still have steering-wheel locks at the precinct (the official giveaways are over, so we’re checking on how you can get one now). Another attendee brought up the uptick in car thefts and armed robberies. “Those are really scary crimes,” she said, describing herself as a Kia owner who is “super concerned about why I can’t just park my car on the street.” Reply: “The Kias are stolen so they can do another crime. They know we can’t chase after them. …” That’s because of state law. “We’re behind the 8-ball with this.”
The police reps stressed it again: Report, report, report. Call 911. Don’t call the non-emergency number – the same people answer both anyway; call 911 and they’ll route you. ANA president Jacobs, who manages a local business, reiterates they have been told to report everything, because police need the data for reasons including staffing allocation – “if the numbers are down, they’re not going to give the Southwest Precinct more officers.” Because they’re so busy running from call to call, it may take a while to get to a report of something not happening right now but: “Whatever you call about, it’s going to get stacked in our queue ….” (which is determined by dispatchers).
Another question was from a resident in the <strong>Madison Middle School/ex-Schmitz Park (currently Alki) Elementary vicinity, about a chronic speeding problem, especially morning and afternoon commute. Lt. Hadley said he’d see if there’s anything they can do if there’s officer availability – “unfortunately we don’t have a Traffic Unit any more” so they can’t just summon a motorcycle officer to, he said dryly, “change people’s lives.”
Someone else asked about speed cameras’ status. That’s up to the City Council approving funding when SDOT requests it. (No proposal has gone to them yet, though – that’s likely in the next city budget cycle, which starts in a few weeks.) Have the speed cushions/humps made a differencr? No quantifiable answer on that.
CITY ATTORNEY ANN DAVISON: She was accompanied by several members of her team, including Southwest Precinct Liaison Joe Everett and criminal division chief Natalie Walton-Anderson (a West Seattle resident). Davison said she’s been visiting precincts and greeted the Southwest Precinct one day at 3 am as first watch came on. She described the police/city attorney relationship as a relay team – you call, police respond, they potentially refer to her office (or the county prosecutor, in the case of felony crimes). She talked about the High-Utilizer Initiative and how her goal was a better relationship with “others in the public-safety realm.” They identified 118 people responsible for 2,400 referrals to the City Attorney’s Office – one referral might be multiple crimes. That meant lots of repeat victims, too. She said she’s been working to improve the data analysis/flow into her office so that people can really understand what’s going on – and know if things really are less safe or not. Another initiative: “Close In Time” filing decisions, dealing with a backlog of thousands of cases she says she inherited when elected (almost 2,000 cases were to be declined for prosecution so they could catch up).
She said she decided to sue Kia/Hyundai “because they made a decision to withhold anti-theft technology in their least expensive models” until 2022. And that choice meant the victims of thefts are more likely to be economically challenged to get replacements. She thinks there should be a recall. Dozens of other cities joined the lawsuit, she said, and it’s consolidated into one action in a California court. “This was one thing that we could do.”
In Q & A, Davison was asked for clarification on misdemeanors and felonies. She said a big differentiator is penalty – misdemeanors up to 90 days – gross misdemeanors (which her office also prosecutes) up to 364 days – compared to felonies (which the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office handles and which have higher potential penalties). Davison said her “social theory” is that “we have so much gun violence right now, so much drug use, because we’ve had such inconsistent enforcement and young people see there’s no consequence – we say ‘you should be following the rules’ and they say ‘why?'”
For further clarification, Everett says it’s up to state law to define what’s a felony – “we don’t decide.”
Walton-Anderson addressed the general community concern about crime right now, summarizing that it “feels more brazen, the crime, that’s a legitimate feeling, that data may or may not justify, but it feels that way.” She acknowledged that you might get numb to it – but reporting is key – “I support law enforcement, accountability” — and she added, without singling out any candidates, “Please pay attenton to the City Council race, the judges’ races – support your police – this district is quieter so it’s going to get less resources but report – get together to report (crimes) – be willing to be witnesses, to show up, it’s disheartening to see crime rise, even if just the brazen effects of (crimes).”
She continued, “Our goal is not conviction, our goal is the right outcome” – explaining that even if/when someone is sentenced, “it’s not the end, we have to get a re-entry plan for when they get out – if we don’t change the message that that’s all they can do, we know we’re going to see them again” Though it doesn’t work this way currently, Walton-Anderson said, earlier intervention could make a bigger difference: “If we can do it right we should be doing it at the misdemeanor level, closer to the root causes.”
An attendee asked Davison about the state law restricting police pursuits and if there are any stats on its effects. She said it’s not a focus for her, it’s more a matter of police procedure – “as prosecutor for the city, we see (results) after the fact.” Everett recommended asking the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
Where can people get misdemeanor data? Davison says quarterly reports on diversion are on the website – demographics, heat map, more. Everett also noted that SPD has a crime-data dashboard.
What’s the City Attorney Office’s budget? $45 million. That sounds like too little, suggested the attendee, and Davison agreed.
Are they seeing an uptick in mental-health-related cases? Davison called that “the number one issue we have to face in our society,” explaning that people can’t be prosecuted if they are found mentally incompetent to stand trial “because they can’t understand what they did.” She and KC Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion co-authored a story about the backlog at the state psychiatric hospital, “they can’t even get felony suspects in for treatment (and) the State Legislature deprioritized misdemeanor restoration” (treatment to try to restore competence so someone can stand trial). As Walton-Anderson had said, Davison also said early intervention is most important – which is why she feels it’s a mistake to pull back from intervening with misdemeanor suspects; if you don’t work with someone early, things may get worse for them and they might not ever be able to get on the right track.
Since it hadn’t come up, we asked at that point if she had a comment about the drug-crime law passed by a City Council committee earlier in the day. She didn’t have much to say – citing the late hour (it was past 8 pm by then) – but offered that she’s just glad something’s getting done.
SUMMER RECAP: ANA took a quick look back and ahead at summer events. From next year on, ANA will present the West Seattle 4th of July Kids’ Parade, with coordinator Megan Erb working with ANA to make it happen. This year was “one of the longest we’ve had in years,” she said. “It has grown and we need more help and we need to be a 501c3” – every year it costs around $3,000 and money has to be raised to cover that.
Concert series coordinator Stephanie Jordan, who is also ANA vice president, noted that the series’ return this year was a success even though only three concerts were presented because of venue uncertainty fairly late in the game. They’re not sure about next year, since Hiawatha Community Center work is still pending.
And the Admiral Funktion street festival, presented by the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce last year, was an ANA production this year for the first time; they hope to keep it going and growing, Jacobs said.
UPCOMING EVENTS: A dine-out night at Mioposto (2141 California SW) will benefit ANA on October 17th, 4-9 pm, 20 percent of the proceeds from everything sold, whether dine-in or take-out. (Next Tuesday, September 19th, Mioposto has a dine-out event to benefit Lafayette Elementary.) …. Admiral trick-or-treating will be on October 27th …. The next ANA “general gathering” will be November 14th. … Admiral Church has holiday events in the works, including another Christmas Market, and a free West Seattle Big Band concert at 3 pm December 3rd.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ANA – including membership (not required for participation, but dues too support the organization’s work) – at connecttoadmiral.org.