Light turnout for city’s West Seattle/South Park public-safety forum

By Sean Golonka
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Residents from across West Seattle and South Park expressed concerns about community safety and a desire to see more alternatives to policing at a city-convened public forum tonight, but most people in attendance described feeling at least somewhat safe in their neighborhood.

Among the few dozen attendees — who reported hailing from all over the area, South Park to Alki — 32 people responded to a poll at the event asking how safe they feel in their neighborhood, with 12% selecting “very safe,” 51% “somewhat safe,” 15% “somewhat unsafe,” and 6% “very unsafe.”

The forum held at Concord International Elementary in South Park was one of four community-safety forums held by the mayor’s office, with a fifth and final forum scheduled in Queen Anne later this week.

The Tuesday forum offered local residents a chance to speak with staff from about a dozen city agencies, including Seattle Police Department (SPD) and Seattle Department of Transportation, and was designed for local government officials to collect feedback meant to shape the One Seattle Safety Framework.

The framework, which has not yet been released, will guide the city’s strategic approach to public safety, and includes six key goals:

-Reduce gun violence and other violent crime with evidence-based solutions and enforcement strategies.

-Respond to 9-1-1 calls efficiently and effectively by hiring more officers and diversifying response options.

-Address the root causes and impacts of violence by investing in community-based solutions and upstream interventions.

-Prioritize a public health and trauma-informed approach to reduce overdoses, reduce violence, and better support victims and survivors.

-Coordinate community safety efforts to avoid duplication and inefficiencies by breaking down silos between departments.

-Build and maintain community trust through strong accountability systems and community engagement on law enforcement priorities.

The myriad agencies present at the event — from the Department of Education and Early Learning (DEEL) to Seattle Parks and Recreation — reflect the wide-ranging approach to the public safety plan. District 1 Councilmember Rob Saka was the lone city councilmember at the event.

Dwane Chappelle, the director of DEEL, asked attendees about their concerns about school safety, and he emphasized his support for access to early learning and ensuring young people are “connected.”

At a table discussion with SPD, several attendees raised concerns about a lack of resources to address people suffering through mental health crises and the reliance on police to address those situations. Attendees also questioned efforts to recruit more police officers that involved lowering entry-level requirements for the position.

“What is the threshold where we allow people to serve as police who aren’t suited for the job?” one attendee asked SPD officials.

Solutions shared by city staff ultimately circled back to the key goals associated with the framework. In particular, SPD staff emphasized the need for more officers and said the department continues to face significant recruitment challenges.

Those comments come on the heels of the city council voting this afternoon, with Saka in support, to approve a new contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) that includes a 23% pay bump for Seattle officers. The increase makes entry-level officers the highest-paid in the state.

Alongside the effort to attract more police officers, city officials said they are working to expand “diversified response” options, a reference to programs such as Community Assisted Response and Engagement (CARE), which places behavioral health specialists in the emergency response field.

But even with boosting base pay for officers, increasing police recruitment comes with challenges.

Jennifer Satterwhite, crime prevention coordinator with the Southwest Precinct, which serves West Seattle and South Park, said SPD’s staffing challenges are not unique to Seattle and are affecting law enforcement nationally. She said the department is even struggling to fill police academy positions, as it competes with other local law enforcement agencies for recruits.

Outside of recruitment challenges, Capt. Martin Rivera, commander of the Southwest Precinct, described police staffing trends as cyclical, and said the efforts to hire a large number of officers now will likely lead to a drop-off in staffing down the line when they retire.

“Twenty five to 30 years from now, you’re gonna see people leaving,” Rivera said.

SPD staff also spoke with attendees about efforts to protect public safety and build public trust.

Rivera said the challenges of policing in the Southwest Precinct are similar to those in the rest of the city and said crime trends in West Seattle also mirror those of the broader city. But he emphasized his support for building relationships with the community and having police engaged in events like tonight’s forum.

“The public has to be involved,” Rivera said.

1 Reply to "Light turnout for city's West Seattle/South Park public-safety forum"

  • Actually Mike May 15, 2024 (9:09 am)

    I was there and thought this turned out to be a waste of time. Seemed like there were more people in attendance than your photo shows, but neighbors started leaving almost as soon as the proceedings began–after seeing that Hizzoner was a no-show and this was mostly a for-show event. The minions of bureaucracy were much in evidence, however–patting themselves and each other on the back, calling for applause over and over, etc. Reminded me of a middle-school pep rally. Pity the event didn’t much delve into real and meaningful conversations about community safety or lack thereof, rather than focusing on a bunch of QR code polls that didn’t actually “get at” much of anything. Focus groups might be a better approach if the city really wants to hear from District 1 residents. The punks with guns didn’t take the night off, though, as documented in other WSB stories from the last 24 hours. (https://westseattleblog.com/2024/05/west-seattle-crime-watch-harbor-avenue-shooting/ and https://westseattleblog.com/2024/05/traffic-alert-police-response-closes-16th-sw-by-south-seattle-college/)

    And national news headlines reminded us that Seattle had 57 more fatal shootings from 2020-2023 than during the previous four-year period. Lots of work for Our Fair City to do here, folks.

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