On November 18, Loyal Heights residents and other from Seattle’s North End met with SPD and City Council about crime in their communities.KIRO-TV aired this story.  http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/loyal-heights-residents-frustrated-petty-crimes-an/nh9xB/ but much more was said. A standing-room only crowd packed into a room at Loyal Heights Community Center to hear from officers and civilian employees of the Seattle Police Department, from the Assistant City Attorney for the North Precinct, and from each other.  Organized by Whittier Heights resident Gina Frank, the point of the meeting was to hear comments and questions from residents and to ask for response from the officials present. Concern that criminals were getting more aggressive because” criminals know police won’t show up” and “911 doesn’t help.”

City Council President Tim Burgess and representatives from the offices of Councilmembers Clark and O’Brien attended.  Mr. Burgess offered an “apology for city not living up to your expectations.”  He said it is imperative to respond to property crime, which is (higher than other cities and that Seattle will add a net of 100 police officers in the next 3 years — 9 net next year means that 100 must be hired to replace those who leave or retire. Points discussed included:

POLICE STAFFING AND HIRING: Plan in 2007 was to hire 100 more officers; plan was stopped when recession hit.  Now SPD is beefing up hiring, working fast but hard to find the really qualified applicants needed to staff well. Goal is to add a net of 100 new officers in the next 3 years, but retirements make the problem worse. To add a net of 9 new officers next year means 100 must be hired this year to replace those leaving. All precincts are currently thinly staffed so the City is adding more overtime, especially anti-violence, for 6 weeks, but can’t sustain this level of spending. Asked if “depolicing” is happening, the answer was “No.”  Officers who are burned out generally leave.

PROSECUTIONS: Felonies are charged at the county level, misdemeanors by the city.  It takes several days to 4-5 months to process a case, while courts track behavior, may impose bail.

“TELL US WHAT WE CAN DO”:  Audience members asked this repeatedly. Answers included:

  • 911 calls generate both data and emphasis patrols. When you call 911, say you want follow-up contact even if an officer cannot come out right away; you will get a call or an officer visit.
  • Prevent property crimes with house and car alarms, lights, videos, a dog on premises. Vigilant neighbors! Block watches. Install a metal (not plastic)  locking mailbox. Mark your items helps in recovery.
  • Police need good information from neighbors and the seemingly most trivial info can help. But video with no clear image of the perpetrator’s face makes prosecution difficult—not as easy as it seems on TV
  • Report crime and police can act—for example, if there are empty houses with squatters,  CPT can require property owner to deal with it if crime is reported or if it’s a blight
  • UNLOCKED DOORS = OPPORTUNITIES so lock house and car doors
  • Ask the Community Police Team for help organizing in a specific location
  • Learn from FAWN and GAIN’s examples—meetings, information sharing on social media and newsletters, walks to establish presence (not vigilante action), work with SPD, City Attorney’s office, City Council, agencies such as Department of Corrections *
  • Partnerships are key to avoid just repeating a neighborhood cycle of crime

POLICE ACTIONS TO MAXIMIZE RESPONSE: Police use various tactics to increase presence, as in parking their big police van strategically every day.  The North End has five sectors, each with its own squad and boss—officers can operate outside their sector but travel takes time and an officer may have to turn back if a higher priority call comes in. Investigation of a crime stays in sector.  Officer in person will take a long time. Approximately 60 officers are on 3rd watch every night across the North Precinct. Officers do respond—for perspective, there were 3000 calls the night of the recent storm vs. 5-600 on an ordinary night.

Sgt. Dianne Newsom explained dispatch call triage, explaining how decisions are made to dispatch an officer.  The priorities, in descending order, are

  1. Violent crimes in progress
  2. Property crimes in progress
  3.  Basic investigation calls or suspicious people
  4. Noise complaint

Tip for getting better response: report at off hours.

The panel also said that arrests are made every day and they do their best to get items back to owner. Asked about a substation in Ballard, the group was told this is a matter for political decision-makers, not police.

* Networks of block watches for crime prevention along the Aurora corridor