North Precinct Advisory Council (Crime Stuff)

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    After I saw another post about an NPAC meeting here on NextDoor and realized I didn’t have anything better to do, I headed north to the Community College. NPAC stands for North Precinct Advisory Council, and is comprised mainly of local advisory councils that meet with SPD on a regular basis as well as some local business owners. While a lot of these types of meetings can be insanely boring, this one was actually kind of productive.

    In this case, the Captain in charge of SPD North Precinct was there, and after listening to him, I mostly believe what he said. Most of these bullet points are based on my read of the comments he and others made. I know at least one other NextDoor commenter was there – they may be able to add their impressions, but these are my thoughts alone on the subject. I went in expecting to be really angry. I came away with a lot more empathy for the problems than I expected to have. This doesn’t solve anything, but it makes it a lot easier to understand what is happening.

    – To hear the Captain tell it, there is a lot more to the Westneat story than actually came out in the article. I don’t know the rules on what the Captain was expecting with regards to having his words repeated, so in the spirit of cooperation, I’ll be a little oblique.

    -First, the call came in on the night of the 65 MPH windstorm, and the North precinct received, according to him, 2900 calls, which would overwhelm just about any PD in the country.

    – Second, the 911 operator was the same one who was on the phone with the guy who got shot on 85th outside of Fred Meyer a month or two ago, and her reaction to that may have colored her reaction to the Westneat call. The Captain stated definitively that he listened to the entire call and there is far more than what came out in the Westneat article.

    – Personally, I am inclined to almost believe him 100%, but I’m cynical by nature. The whole story, if indeed there are two sides, will probably eventually come out, and I would encourage all to collectively reserve judgement until all the facts show up. The leadership of SPD North spent an hour on the phone with Westneat on Monday after the article came out. Whether or not he chooses to discuss the contents of that call is up to Westneat.

    – It should come as no surprise that the consent decree regarding the use of force is really impacting not only officer performance, but response times as well. Response times because officers are being taken off of the street and cycled through training. Performance because the standards imposed by the consent decree are, in effect, making a lot of officers have to re-learn their jobs. I translate this in my own mind to the golf lessons that I take every spring – I go to see the pro, tell him I’m slicing or hooking (slicing in odd years, hooking in even years), and instead of fixing that problem, he teaches me how to hold the club again, which feels weird because I had gotten used to my way of holding the club. For the first weeks after I re-learn how to hold the club, I’m overthinking everything. This is analogous to the impact of retraining. It had to happen due to a lot of abuses in the past, and it is happening at the worst possible time.

    – Random stat of the day – the Seattle North Precinct is the largest precinct north of Los Angeles. Given that there are only two major cities in that stretch (Portland and San Francisco) that are in any way comparable with Seattle, this sounds more impressive than it actually is, but it does factor into the response time. The distances are vast, and even with a flashing light and a siren, it takes a lot of time to get from place to place.

    – Random comment of the day – Microsoft is more than willing to help the city if they can make a profit on implementing a new IT infrastructure at SPD and then use that as a template to sell to other cities across the country. I have no problem with making a profit, of course, but you would hope that there would be a bit of a hometown discount. The PR value alone to Microsoft if they came in and used their expertise in their home region would be enormous, so if you know people who make those types of decisions in Redmond, you may want to pass that thought along.

    – There is a new app called “Find It, Fix It”, which is not a panacea for all of the problems, but is a way to help SPD collect structured (i.e. searchable / sortable) data so that they can start attacking problem areas. It isn’t perfect, by any means, but it is a start to start gathering data on the nuisance-level stuff.

    – When I asked specifically what we (the community) can do to help him do his job, the answer, unsurprisingly, came down to resources. Mention was made of the initiatives that passed Tuesday night, which are supposedly good things to have, but I sensed a lot of frustration that there was not a similar push by the community to provide resources at similar levels to SPD. I also sensed a lot of frustration that those higher up the food chain are not embracing the need for more resources as much as those on the pointy end of the spear would like them to.

    – The captain was insistent that calls are being responded to in a timely manner. I didn’t push him on which calls those were, or what the definition of a Priority 1 call was, mainly because, quite frankly, it was very late in his day, and I could read in his body language that he just wanted to go home and get some sleep before waking up and resuming his status as Head Punching Bag in Charge. However, I don’t think that there is a lot of understanding within SPD and above about the number of stories that are out there about response times.

    – Phrases like “we’re doing well in 99% of the calls” were used indicates either a) a desire to protect his subordinates, b) pressure from above to toe a line, or c) a lack of understanding of what it is like on the other side. Some of this is miscommunication. Some of it is institutional inertia. Some of it is unrealistic expectations on the part of the community. The proportions of each shift from day to day, but as long as they exist, problems are not being acknowledged, which means that problems are not being solved.

    Those are the highlights. As I think of other things that I did not cover above, I’ll add them to this post.



    Chris, thank you for the detailed report! The comparison with LA is an interesting one. I remember reading an article awhile back about how hit-and-run accidents are not really treated as crimes – no gathering of evidence, investigation, etc unless someone dies. I do hope we’re not headed that direction. However, I’d like to see a comparison amongst cities of how many officers per square mile for each precinct. I think that would be more illuminating. As a bonus, that figure can be crunched with crime statistics to see if the number of officers works well or is giving property criminals license to do as they please.



    Thanks, Chris!

    I will be interested to know if more comes out about the Times columnist’s experiences. My experience with my recovered car and 911 was, while still frustrating due to the slow response, quite different from his. Yes, I waited ten hours over two days for an officer to have time to look over my car for evidence. That alone sounds horrible. But I was able to wait at home while doing things I would have been doing otherwise, and the 911 operators would call me every so often to apologize and assure me I was still in the queue. Everyone was professional, and most raised that a notch to friendly (no one was unfriendly).

    I don’t deny there’s a problem. Our police are woefully understaffed, and their inability to take care of petty crimes now is likely to leave us with a more problematic environment down the road. We simply need more resources.

    But with my various dealings with them of late, in two different precincts, I haven’t encountered the callousness that has been described elsewhere. Just overworked people trying to do the best they can, and knowing it’s not always enough.


    Salmon Bay

    With no link or reference, I’m not sure what the issue or article was that’s being referenced.

    But on the topic of police resources, I tend to be dumbfounded. I see police ignoring major traffic infractions that make travelling in our city very dangerous, and wonder why they aren’t issuing tickets? I wonder, if the police are so underfunded to serve and protect, can’t we find a way to fund them through ticket and fine revenues? Can’t we fund them through heavy fines on criminals? It really seems to me that we need to find a way for police enforcement to more easily fund themselves through active enforcement of our laws and heavy civil and criminal penalties for those that break the law and require an active police force.



    How about all those red light camera tickets? Seems like they provide a good revenue stream.

    I don’t know about a general “heavy fine on criminals” idea — most criminals don’t actually have any money. It’s a huge problem in the correctional system today. There’s an industry that has sprung up around people being fined from crimes and then basically ending up in debtor’s prison when they can’t pay the fine, they can’t pay the cost of their parole (run through private vendors), etc. Not sure how much of that is in play in WA state, but it’s a bad road.



    I’ve been pretty happy with police responsiveness to my calls. The time it was important they were there in 2-3 minutes. The time they didn’t do anything, there wasn’t really anything that could be done.

    On funding, I think they need to look inwards. When cops feel good enough about their position that they threaten to harass members of the press, there’s a real problem. When they get off from what would land you and me in jail not only with no jail time but also no professional consequences, there’s a real problem. We’ll see how the new chief does, but historically, there seems to be no impetus to do anything about problem cops. I’m sure the vast majority of cops are good people doing a hard, dangerous, and often thankless job. But when they close ranks behind the small minority of cops who should not be on the force, they tar themselves. If they get their own house in order, they will have the public support to get funding.



    Chris, thank you for taking the time to attend the meeting and to share such a detailed report here. (It’s been awhile since this forum has felt like a helpful community resource.)

    As a longtime Ballard resident and mom of tween-age boys, it would certainly be amazing if community support swirled around better funding/staffing for community-based policing where population hubs could count on regular beat cops who helped enforce basic safety and decency standards (everything from thefts to illegal dumping/camping to public drinking/drug use, etc.). Perhaps this could be a focus of getting their “house in order” that would help rebuild public support.

    It’s extra sad seeing and hearing about flagrant abuses of the law (and general disrespect for community) on a daily basis when you’re viewing the world with kids’ perspectives in mind. We all know it’s a tough world and we each have to do our part to take care of our community and environment, but you gotta hope government can achieve a bit higher level of success.



    I’ve been thinking about the north precinct in regards to the quick and amazing response by SFD my complex experienced recently. SFD showed up in roughly 5 minutes. Doubtless the damage would have been very much worse if it had been 10 or 15 minutes. The time was so quick because there is a station down on 17th/market and another up on 15th/105th. Even though 5 minutes is a great response time, part of what help minimize the damage is within those 5 minutes, residents went in the apartment and doused the flames with a fire extinguisher. The point I am making is it would be unacceptable if SFD were run like the north precinct currently does. If SFD were based up by NSCC and they had a vehicle patrolling around Ballard with 1-2 men in it to respond to any number of calls, would it be ok? No, buildings would burn down and people would be hurt at best. What if citizens could potentially be charged as a criminal if they took on the role of the SFD in the minutes/hours it took to get a response? I am not suggesting that people become vigilantes, but they are made fairly powerless by several circumstances which in turn emboldens the real criminals.

    Ok, so it’s not a complete apples-to-apples comparison, but seconds count in a fire and with non-property crime this is also true. I believe the north precinct should be cut into multiple precincts, though that still won’t solve the manpower issue.



    Salmon Bay, the article being referenced (I think) is Danny Westneat’s piece on Seattle’s new growth industry in the Seattle Times:

    Thanks again Chris for attending the meeting and taking the time to share your notes. The NPAC does publish some sort of vetted notes as well. Usually a couple of days later than the meeting. I’ll try to dig up the link. Not at all obvious where to find them.


    Here’s the link to official NPAC minutes:

    And here’s a link to a writeup in the Broadview Community Blog about the prior meeting in which Chief O’Toole performed what seems a quick “smooth it over job” on the damaging internal “memo” that got leaked about resources not available to officers in the North Precinct:



    Shelley, that is the correct Seattle Times article. Thanks for linking to it.

    61st Mama, BoatGeek, etc. –

    I don’t know the whole story, and don’t have time to research it, but the chronology works out something like this (not completely inclusive or, perhaps, accurate) –

    Mid-2000’s: Seattle developed something called a neighborhood policing plan that put more officers on regular beats close to the communities. It wasn’t perfect, but it was an approach that pretty much every group (community, police, city government) wanted or liked. The only real exception to that was the criminal element, but as far as I know they do not have a lobbying group.

    2007-2008: Economic crash, tax revenue plummets, funding dries up. New officer hiring at anything more than to, at best, stem the attrition rate, stops, even as Seattle continues to add population.

    ???? – 2010: SPD members compile a record of constitutional and use of force abuses long enough for the federal Justice Department to sue the city.

    2012: City signs Consent Decree, which brings oversight from a Federal Monitor on retraining all officers on new policies developed by the Federal Monitor and SPD / City leadership.

    2012-2013/14: Seattle Police Union fights the consent decree at every turn, eventually loses, but left a legacy of protecting even bad officers who have no business representing the city. Unions can be a force for good, but too many times they work to protect individuals who have no business being protected, especially when they are in clear violation of policies adopted by SPD.

    2008-2014: Local criminals, who are not, to be fair, the sharpest tools in the shed, finally figure out that the punishment for property crimes is so minimal (to say nothing of the chance of being caught) that there is almost no disincentive to pursuing their life’s work of making life hard on everyone else.

    Funniest comment of the night last night was delivered by one of the federal monitors, a longtime Seattle lawyer who is doing the job for either free or at a steeply discounted rate: “I don’t mean to offend the Dregs of society, but our officers have to deal with the Dregs every day.”

    Here’s the point of all of this: in a perfect world, without the economic crash, SPD probably would have been able to implement both the Consent Decree and the Neighborhood Policing Plan at the same time. There would be hiccups, of course, but things would be far in advance of where we are now. A lot of the concerns about “looking inward” and getting the internals of SPD right would have been taken care of. That didn’t happen. Most of it was a lack of anticipated funds, but there is enough blame to be spread on previous SPD leadership, as well as some of the neanderthals that the union is protecting.

    Since none of us have access to a time machine, none of us can fix that series of events. The best that can be done is to acknowledge ALL of the problems and start fixing them. That starts and ends, fairly or unfairly, within SPD.

    I’m not surprised at the “glossing over” that took place at the previous NPAC meeting. At this point, SPD is bouncing from crisis to crisis, hoping things will get better if they keep following their plan. I’ve been in a position similar to the captain was last night – he did not say as much, but I can read the body language and resignation in his tone – he is literally being pulled in every direction, with little hope of relief, only a determination to keep getting up every morning and putting in the steps.

    SPD brought this upon themselves. City government aided and abetted it. Criminals are profiting from it, which is an unintended consequence of all of this stuff.

    On the subject of criminals profiting from all of this crap – the Captain told the story of a group of 6 people (4 males, 2 females) who operate near the Northgate Park/Ride lots and steal phones from (primarily) one minority subgroup. Sometimes this involves violence. Mostly it is intimidation. When SPD catches them, the group admits readily that they get $100 for a stolen iPhone, and a couple of weeks in either the county jail or juvenile hall (it was unclear as to the age of the perpetrators) was not enough disincentive to stop them from resuming their behavior when they get out.

    He implied, rather strongly, that this tactic has been adopted by crews of people around the city. As long as the city legal structure (city attorney / jails / etc.) is not taking steps to provide a stronger disincentive by taking them off the street for far longer time periods, this behavior will continue. Unfortunately, the city is apparently more concerned with being nice to criminals than taking them out of circulation.

    All of these pieces are moving targets, of course, but all of them are coming together to make a problem even worse than it probably should be.


    Salmon Bay

    Shelley, thanks, I read the Times article. And that goes right back to my point. We need heavy monetary penalties to pay for the police enforcement needed. For instance, the thieves in the article were driving a minivan with stolen property in it. The police should be able to confiscate that van, everything in it and whatever else these deadbeats own, and sell it to fund police activities (and of course returning stolen property if possible). Surely the value of these items can pay for the policing needed to arrest and prosecute these deadbeats. The punishment of losing everything you own is too harsh for a smash and grab crime? Then don’t do it.



    There’s an issue with arresting someone and profiting by doing it. As admirable as it is to try to get more funding to the police, there have been laws that allowed a department to profit from confiscating “drug involved” properties. So if you got popped for smoking a little weed at home, they could take your car. It can also promote selective enforcement, because why go after the broke-ass criminals that spend all their cash on putting junk in their veins when you can arrest a soccer mom for something? Not that soccer moms never break the law, but not really in droves.

    Honestly, I don’t know what the fix is. Possibly part of the issue is so much of our tax money is tied up for inappropriate/unnecessary items that we just can’t vote for additional taxes on top of the already burdensome load.


    Salmon Bay

    I don’t have an issue with the police arresting a person and having that person pay for their services. It’s not profiting, it’s merely paying for the service they require. And if that service is expensive, then it should be expensive. And if people are breaking traffic laws, ticket them to the tune of paying for all of the officers it takes to catch them and ticket them.



    Aha, what I’m thinking of is called civil forfeiture:

    This is why although it’s a nice thought, civil forfeiture is generally a Bad Idea. It works only so long as the government and all its representatives are absolutely sterling and could not be corrupted. Since that’s not possible, giving the government that sort of power is another way of giving up our rights. What gets approved to be used just against criminals eventually gets used in other ways. And some day, it may be you.



    Good, useful posts, everyone (Chris especially!). The traditional Seattle way of funding services that in other cities are paid out of the general fund is to propose a levy. I wonder if we could pay for a private local police force with a Local Improvement District?



    Harking back to a former career, I worked as an attorney for a number of years in a very busy district attorney’s office in Northern California. One thing that actually worked to shut down drug dealers and the motorcycle gang involvement was for the prosecuting attorney leveraging the provisions of the RICO act of 1970 ( a fair reading, but not fully explorative of the full range of the implications). Much property, real estate, vehicles, boats, gold, electronics and more was confiscated using that act. Guilty pleas were negotiated under threat of using it. I wonder why it isn’t used here in the great NW?


    Salmon Bay

    Phoo, I’m not actually advocating that we take people’s possessions per se. I think criminals should just get hefty fines appropriate to pay for the police services they take up. And if they don’t pay the fine, then yes, confiscate whatever they have that can pay for the fine.

    Many will argue that these criminals don’t have any money to pay fines, and then we will just spend more money putting them in jail. I say take whatever they have if they can’t pay the fine. Like the criminals in the Times story from the OP. They had a minivan, and I’m sure more possessions. . How much would it cost to hire a police officer to come and arrest them and get them prosecuted? Fine them that much. Confiscate and sell their minivan and all their possessions if they can’t pay the fine.



    Are you sure they had the minivan? Are you sure it didn’t belong to an innocent mother or relative? What if someone is accused of a crime, then are given a 5 figure fine? Many people could not pay that, no matter how they might want to.

    I’m not saying that your idea doesn’t have some merit, only that once implemented it can be a slippery slope. And yes, there are people going to jail now over fines they can’t pay – largely the homeless for loitering.

    Unfortunately, what becomes a money maker for law enforcement can often be abused to make money for law enforcement, levied against those who CAN pay, or become enemies in some way.

    Plus, there’s the widening scope of things. Ok, so thieves should have possessions seized and fines levied if convicted. What about if we know they did a crime, but didn’t get convicted because of a clerical error? Should murderers pay a fine in addition to their sentence? Should you be asked to pay a $5,000 fine because you got popped for jaywalking? Red light cameras are a big money maker now and people are breaking the law, so should it be $1,000 instead of $100? After all, traffic accidents do cost resources.

    These things are where my mind goes when I think about ideas like yours that initially can seem like a Good Idea, but can unfortunately be perverted from the original intent by implementation, time, and most especially by those with authority and less than noble intentions. Humans in general are greedy and those who make, implement, or carry out the laws are no exception.



    If they enforce the hazardous cell phone laws it could refuel an added force.It is getting beyond ridiculous. Zombies, cell phones and people over prescribed on our streets. Bad Karma

    Does anyone stop before the sign anymore. 3rd Ave NW is the new “Frogger”.



    I thought this article was really interesting on the topic of fining criminals/having them pay for the cost of enforcement and punishment. It adds the newfangled wrinkle of private firms that perform these functions for profit, but still applies here I think.



    Angeline, I am still working through this lengthy article, but it is a good one! Thank you for the link.



    How about giving criminals the choice between paying a fine and doing X hours of useful work (say, cleaning parks & streets, painting over graffiti, digging the bypass tunnel under downtown, etc)? (the last bit was mostly joking, thinking about how the rail tunnel under downtown was dug a century ago)



    I’d say that is called “community service” and is already a thing, but perhaps it’s under-utilized, I don’t know. Actually, I think often people are given community service AND a fine.



    The SPD has their own blog, in case you haven’t seen it, and it reports a lot of the little events that don’t make it into the local media. The story about dealing with the homeless population is more expansive than their usual briefs. Check it out.



    …Because who doesn’t want pie with their wine?
    Thanks for the link, JM.

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