Saturday, April 30, 2016

Nuisance properties: What neighbors can do

A common problem that neighborhoods face is houses from which drugs are dealt and stolen items are stored and sold. Below is information shared on the Wedgwood Block Watch listserv about what community members did to rid their neighborhood of one of these houses.

April 26, 2016

Hello, Block Watch,

You probably heard -- or heard of -- the SWAT raid on 8248 38th Avenue NE on April 18/19, 2016. (Normally, we wouldn't share house numbers here, but if you were around that night, you would have heard the address several times on the police bullhorn.) The incident was on my street, in my block, and I'd like to share some of the story with you. We neighbors have learned a lot, and I’m sharing it here, in the hope that if the same thing happens on your street, you have some helpful tools and resources. [And a note that this reflects my opinion. It’s absolutely possible that some of my neighbors have somewhat different points of view.]

Resources below –
Whenever you see an asterisk in the text, search for the corresponding resource below the article.

A problem house –
One of our oldest and most long-time neighbors has been away from his home for a few years. In September 2015, his grandson moved in. Near the end of the year and early in 2016, we saw more and more traffic going in and out of the house. All races and all ages, from young adults to old men with grizzled beards, even an elderly gent with a cane.

Typical behavior would be that a car would park down the block or around the corner, the driver or a passenger would make a phone call, and a few minutes later, the car would move up to the house in question. Driver or passenger would go in, or someone would come out from the house. Big bags were carried to and from the house. Baggies were passed through car windows. People came and went at all hours of the day and night, in cars or on bicycles.

By now, several additional people appeared to be living there. We contacted the young man’s family, but they seemed helpless to do anything about the issue. Whenever a family member came to visit, the people from the house would be gone.

Neighbors – and police – respond
The police were really good about responding to our calls. In mid-February, a policeman familiar with the reports told a neighbor that, when we see this sort of activity, we should call the SPD narcotics unit at 206-684-5797. We had an officer assigned to us, and we were given an “event number,” to which we referred every time we called 9-1-1.

Gathering information
A neighbor requested (and paid $60 for) an in-depth background check* from the Washington State Patrol for the young man in the house. Turns out he had an extensive record a few years back, although he’d been clean until December, 2015, not long after he moved into the house on our block. Too bad for us.


Photo courtesy of Seattle Police
Department.
He shared the information about the young resident’s criminal record with our neighborhood Block Watch, and we began to exchange information about all the traffic, all the activity at the house, in email. With a lot of traffic and a lot of neighbors, email soon became cumbersome and confusing, so we began a log in a shared Google spreadsheet*. Here’s the info we asked for:

Neighbors entered information anonymously. We would occasionally download the spreadsheet, save it as an Excel doc, and email it to our police contacts.

Activity at the house escalated, and so did our calls. And police patrols did, too, I’m happy to say.

Considering options –
We discussed hiring a private investigator, and some of us did a bit of research. We talked with a couple of members of the Washington Association of Legal Investigators* who gave us good advice. But ultimately, we decided that our own surveillance was pretty good.

We attempted to engage the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Agency*, but our situation – while a big deal to us – is a bit below the level they’re dealing with, i.e., with gangs, smuggling, and enforcement at a higher level.

We considered surveillance cameras* but they are expensive and there are legal issues regarding videotaping activities around a private home, etc. Be careful, should you choose this route.

Sharing information with police
Working with our own notes, comments on Nextdoor*, and emails from neighbors, we put together some interesting connections for the police. Someone reported a blue mountain bike, stolen a block from the house, on Nextdoor. A neighbor saw that post and sent it around to our group, urging people to watch for such a bike at the house. And when a blue bike turned up there a few hours later, we called 9-1-1, again. (The lucky owner will soon be able to recover his bike!)

SPD goes in –
So on Monday night, April 18, the neighborhood was thrilled – and chilled – to hear the first concussion grenade, or “flash-bang,” right before midnight. It took more than an hour and a half for the SPD Major Crimes Task Force to get everybody out of the house. You can read the (mostly true) story here: http://spdblotter.seattle.gov/2016/04/19/detectives-recover-bikes-cars-and-motorcycle-after-investigation-at-wedgwood-home/ Several people were arrested. Some of the “residents” -- people of differing ages who were renting from the young owner, we presume – were allowed to go, after being identified. A lot of stolen property was found.

This part is good: No guns were found, as far as we heard.

And apparently no drugs were found, either – plenty of time to flush them, we were told. As we understand, it is considered a small-time operation. During the experience in our neighborhood, several people have mentioned the FrontLine* story that aired – what a coincidence! – in mid-February.

Where was the stolen property going?
One of the people arrested was selling things on Facebook in February 2015 and earlier. Craigslist and OfferUp* are also outlets, although we’re told that OfferUp eagerly cooperates with the police, in order to keep things on the up-and-up.

What’s happening in the house now?
With the help and advice of the police, the owners of the house have taken it back over, changed the locks, and put up No Trespassing signs. There’s still some activity – the word is not yet out everywhere that this house is no longer in business. But it’s a good start. (And that’s fortunate for the family, because if the situation had been allowed to go on too long without their intervention, they could have lost the house; it could have been “abated” as a “nuisance property.”*)

What are the next steps in the legal process?
As a neighborhood, our next steps are to make contact with the prosecuting attorney(s). We’ll follow the suspects who were arrested through the criminal justice system. Along the way, we’ll encourage the judges to deal with their crimes and punishment as seriously as possible. Prosecuting attorneys are generally eager for help from citizens who know a case intimately. (You can follow the process somewhat on VineLink.com*.)

Our same neighborhood was involved in a similar situation in 2000/2001. That involved 3 or 4 houses and nearly a dozen juveniles. Neighbors attended the court appearances of the major trouble-makers, putting pressure on attorneys and judges to put conditions on the kids, which made re-offenses less likely. We did it before – we can do it again.

Retribution?
For the record – for those of you who might fear retribution in such a situation – our police contacts assure us that these guys (and a few gals) aren’t likely to do that. They might be familiar with the individual police people and hold a grudge against them, but generally don’t have time or energy to remember and seek revenge on the neighbors.

What you can do:
1.    Pay attention to changes in your neighborhood, and act sooner rather than later.
2.    Keep an up-to-date list of all the residents in your neighborhood. (We have a shared Excel spreadsheet and update it at the “Night Out” event in August. It includes names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, etc. We also include pets’ names, as well as special skills that would be helpful in case of emergency: medical training, ham radio operators, survival skills, handymen, etc.)
3.     If you see something, say something: Call 9-1-1.

I'm happy to answer any questions. Take care, Everyone!

Ellen Blackstone


RESOURCES:


To request a background check, begin here: http://www.wsp.wa.gov/crime/chrequests.htm)

To set up a Google spreadsheet, start here:
https://www.google.com/sheets/about/)

Seattle Police Department phone numbers:
Non-emergency: 206-625-5011, then press 2, then press #, then 8
Narcotics unit: 206-684-5797

Washington Association of Legal Investigators: http://wali.org/

DEA, Drug Enforcement Agency http://www.dea.gov/about/mission.shtml

Info on video cameras: http://amazon.com/Uniden-G955-Wireless-Surveillance-Monitor/dp/B00FQJEJNY/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1461612669&sr=8-2&keywords=uniden+g955+camera
and amazon.com/Reconyx-HyperFire-HC500-Semi-Covert/dp/B003K29V2I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461612892&sr=8-1&keywords=reconyx+trail+camera

Nextdoor - https://wedgwood.nextdoor.com/news_feed/

Jail Inmate Lookup Service
http://blue.kingcounty.gov/Courts/Detention/JILS/default.aspx

VineLink.com - “Victims have the right to know” - Allows you to sign up to be notified of next steps in a suspect’s legal process
https://vinelink.com/#/home

OfferUp https://offerupnow.com/
Has photos of stuff for sale, which might impede sales of stolen goods: http://bikeportland.org/2015/12/17/170450-170450

KCTS FrontLine, Chasing Heroin: http://kcts9.org/programs/frontline/episodes/3406

And more information here: http://kcts9.org/programs/chasing-heroin-in-seattle

Article in the  Seattle Times: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/chasing-heroin-examines-heroin-problem-in-seattle-nationwide/

Abatement of nuisance properties: Wikipedia has a good explanation and some examples of abatement of nuisance properties: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuisance_abatement (It’s happened before in Seattle, in dire situations, as you’ll see.)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Funding plan for new North Precinct announced

In case you missed the press release from the Mayor's Office last week:

Mayor Ed Murray announced the funding strategy for the new Seattle Police Department North Precinct, slated to break ground in 2017 and open for business in 2019. The mayor will propose no new taxes to pay for the project.

“Because of our vibrant local economy and vigorous real estate sales, we can construct our new North Precinct within existing and projected resources,” said Murray. “While we do have other public safety infrastructure projects on the horizon, there is no need to send a public safety levy to the ballot in near future.”

Seattle continues to collect large receipts in the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) from the sales of residential and commercial properties, which can only be used to pay for City capital projects, including transportation infrastructure, Parks buildings and public safety facilities. Due to projected ongoing strength of REET receipts, the mayor will not propose a public safety levy in 2016 or 2017.

To date, $21 million has been appropriated toward the $160 million precinct project, which will be located at Aurora Avenue North and North 130th Street. The mayor is proposing to fund the remaining $139 million through a combination of REET receipts, 30-year bonds financed by future REET receipts, and the one-time sale of other City assets.

The new North Precinct will accommodate future growth in the Seattle Police Department and replaces the existing North Precinct facility at 10049 College Way North, which is seriously over-crowded. Expansion at the current site is not possible and the existing building constructed in 1984 to house 154 staff, is now home to more than 250 personnel. Planning work began on this project in 2013.

In 2015, Seattle collected a record $73 million through REET on commercial and residential real estate transactions. The City projects that REET collections will continue to remain strong: $56 million in 2016, $56 million in 2017, $60 million in 2018 and $64 million in 2019. A portion of these revenues will be directed towards the construction of the new North Precinct facility.

“Public safety and community policing are high priorities for Seattle residents,” said Councilmember Debora Juarez. “A new police station will house more officers in a better location, which will help ensure police are available to residents when they call. Safe communities are healthy communities.  The proposed financing approach for this facility means we can make a significant investment in our community without asking voters for a new tax increase.”

“With the current North Precinct overcrowded and sitting on a swamp, a new precinct building cannot come soon enough,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess, chair of the Council’s finance committee. “The Council has long pushed to move this project forward as quickly as possible, and I’m pleased that Mayor Murray has developed a solid funding plan to advance construction.”

As part of the City’s effort to respond to homelessness, the City continues to partner with Mary’s Place to provide additional temporary shelter for homeless families within the old PI Bank building at 130th and Stone Way, which currently stands on the site of the new precinct.

One-Day Community Police Academy now available


Interested in the Seattle Police Department’s Community Police Academy (CPA) but can’t make the time commitment? SPD developed a One-Day Academy which is a hybrid of the regular eleven-week sessions. The One-Day Community Police Academy provides a brief overview of a number of classes given during the regular sessions. 

Date: Saturday, June 25, 2016
Time: 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Location: TBA
Cost: Free
Sponsored by: Seattle Police Department

Space is very limited (15 - 20) for the One-Day Academy and the class will fill quickly. All applicants must pass a records’ check. For information contact: Maggie Olsen (206) 684-8672  or margaret.olsen@seattle.gov

Saturday, April 2, 2016

NPAC meets Wednesday, April 6

North Precinct Advisory Council Meeting
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
7-8:30 p.m.
North Seattle College
Room CC1161, College Center Building

Guest speaker: Brian Maxey, SPD Chief Operating Officer, will discuss the recently-released SPD staffing study report.

All NPAC meetings are open to the public. Everyone is welcome!