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Last updated January 8, 2009 11:15 p.m. PT
South Seattle sees rise in serious crimes
Group fears new policing plan won't be enough to deal with problem
By SCOTT GUTIERREZ
The city's lowest crime rate in 40 years isn't translating to South Seattle's neighborhoods, where a local crime prevention group says serious crimes shot up drastically last year.
Uneasy about recent shootings and gang-related crimes, Tom Acker, a longtime South Seattle resident, decided to ask for raw crime data from the South Precinct. He filed a formal public records request, which yielded call logs that showed dramatic rises in homicides, assaults and burglaries in the South End in 2008, he said.
"It validated everything we were feeling in South Seattle," said Acker, who lives in the Lakewood neighborhood and is vice president of the Southeast Seattle Crime Prevention Council.
Now, the crime prevention group is asking whether the city's new Neighborhood Policing Plan is sufficient to stem the tide. The plan — a redrawing of police beats and redistribution of officers to improve response times and more efficiently fight crime — was implemented a year ago.
Acker and others are concerned that staffing is about 20 officers short of where it should have been by the end of 2008. His group wants assurances from city officials that more officers will be provided to the precinct, which is the smallest in population but contains areas that many street gangs claim as turf.
"We want to restore pride in our community, and we recognize the Seattle Police Department is a very big partner in doing that," Acker said.
The Seattle Police Officers' Guild, which has filed a grievance related to staffing in the South Precinct, has echoed those concerns.
Between 2007 and 2008, assaults more than doubled, burglaries were up 18 percent and robberies were up 27 percent, according to data Acker obtained and provided to the Seattle P-I. On the bright side, rapes and drive-by shootings were down.
Citywide, crime fell to historically low levels in 2007 and was expected to drop again in 2008, continuing Seattle's status as one of the safest large cities, the Police Department reported.
But the department's own 2008 midyear crime report showed total crimes in the South Precinct rose 9 percent, with aggravated assaults also up 9 percent, although equating to a much less significant trend.
Assistant Chief Nick Metz said he couldn't comment on Acker's analysis without knowing how it was tabulated.
But, he said, comparing 2008 with 2007 is difficult because the South Precinct's boundaries changed last year to encompass a large swath of Sodo and Georgetown that originally belonged to other precincts. Also, some raw data may include incidents that turned out to be something different or no crime at all.
"Citywide, we've seen a pretty significant decrease, but there are definitely some challenges going on in the South End, particularly with the gang violence issues," Metz said.
Police are still compiling data for the 2008 final report, which is taking longer due to the new system, a spokesman said.
Under the new policing plan, 105 new officers will be hired by 2012.
Metz said recruitment last year exceeded goals but that many new officers wouldn't be fully trained and ready for a year. In the meantime, extra officers, including pro-active anti-crime team units, have been assigned to tackle street gangs and youth violence in the South and East precincts.
Eighty-two officers, or 17 percent of patrol ranks, are assigned to the South Precinct, which also accounts for 17 percent of the workload.
Sgt. Rich O'Neill, the guild president, said a patrol officer in the South Precinct last summer had to wait nine minutes for backup after stopping car thieves at gunpoint. The guild has filed a grievance over the delay, which O'Neill called an "eternity" for a felony stop.
The guild already criticized the new police staffing plan, saying it has glitches and was initiated before enough new officers were hired to make it work. The problem is compounded because the department recently scaled back on overtime for specialty patrols and extra staffing because of budget constraints, he said.
"Take a look at certain areas and they are just being hit," he said, adding that officers in the South End feel the pressure with a rise in gang violence.
"They're stressed. It is rough out there, and whether this group's crime stats are off a point or two, I don't think matters. They're just saying it is not wonderful like the department tries to portray," O'Neill said.
Chief Gil Kerlikowske, however, said last month that crime in South Seattle is stable.
"But if your neighbor is assaulted or your house is broken into, you don't care about statistics," he said, adding that the media's focus on violent crimes might color the public's perception.
Acker said he wants the city to see the statistics as another reason to invest in youth programs and police officers who can mentor at-risk youth. It's not just a South Seattle problem, as evidenced by high-profile shootings in other areas committed by young men from the south end who crossed paths outside their neighborhood.
"We're exporting our shooters to other neighborhoods now," he said.
Reporter Casey McNerthney contributed to this report. P-I reporter Scott Gutierrez can be reached at 206-903-5396 or moc.ipelttaes|zerreitugttocs#moc.ipelttaes|zerreitugttocs.
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