Beacon Hill meeting addresses neighborhood's youth violence

BEACON HILL - A group of concerned South End parents and citizens gathered at the Jefferson Community Center last week to discuss ways the community can help stem a rising tide of random teen violence threatening to overwhelm the neighborhood.

The Oct. 11 meeting, which drew about 40 attendees, was organized by the parents themselves following a recent assault in an unprotected area near the community center. A number of public officials were also in attendance, including members of the Seattle Police Department (SPD), the city's Parks department and the school district.

Meeting chair and parent Matthew Mar opened the proceedings with a call for an "action plan," while pointing out that he didn't want to place the blame for the spate of violent acts on any one party.

"This is no particular person's fault," Mar said. "That kind of stuff, in my opinion, doesn't do any good."

Instead, Mar urged anyone concerned about neighborhood violence to get involved in order to "make Beacon Hill safer." He called for volunteers to patrol problem areas and keep their eyes on "hot spots," such as the path behind the center where a student was recently assaulted.


SPD officer Sylvia Parker noted there hasn't been any particular pattern to the violence, adding, "If there is, it's not being reported." Parker urged residents to report each and every incident in order to help police create a solid profile for the neighborhood. "If we don't get any documentation on incidents, there's nothing we can do about them," she explained.

Parker also noted that officers aren't always focused on the age of the perpetrators of crimes, saying that the department is more concerned with "the incident itself and solving it."

South Precinct Crime Prevention Coordinator Mark Solomon seconded this.

"We're going by what has been reported," he said. "It is not uncommon for crimes to go unreported. If you don't tell us, we don't know. And if you don't call us, we ain't coming."

When it comes to responding to crime in the area, Parker pointed out that recent incidents at Cleveland High School have created "a huge drain on resources" during school dismissal times, hindering SPD's ability to respond to other incidents of violence and property crime in the area.

"It's one thing after another," Parker explained.

She added that the daytime watch is "chronically busy" responding to calls.

"When you add a hot spot to it," she said - such as the area around Jefferson Community Center's lawn bowling facility - "you will have just about every resource going there."

To expect officers to routinely patrol problem areas, "that's just not realistic," Parker pointed out.

Solomon added that when you have an incident such as the Oct. 10 shooting at Rainier Avenue South and South Walden Street, things become especially bogged down.

"That's an example of something that can happen during the day," he said.

Nonetheless, Solomon added, "pockets of concern" such as the area around the Jefferson Community Center do get any extra attention SPD can afford to give them. "Those pockets are being worked in one way or another," he assured those in attendance.


When asked what residents can do to help officers in making a particular area safer, Solomon said, "It sounds like you're already doing it." He pointed out that it's always helpful when there are as many "adult eyes" keeping watch over areas of concern.

"Be a visible presence," Solomon instructed the meeting. "You being in the area is just as important" as police officers being around, he added.

Parker urged residents to call SPD whenever crime strikes.

"Anything you want to be a statistic that we can work from - report it," she said regarding building up SPD's crime profile of a neighborhood.

"If it is suspicious to you, call," Solomon added. "If you want a cop to show up, use 911. We really need you to call."

Contributing to problems in the South End, gang activity also has been picking up after a recent lull during the past few years, Solomon explained.

"It really doesn't matter what they call themselves," he said, "what we focus on is their behavior."

Responding to a question as to whether the SPD Gang Unit had been disbanded, Solomon said, "we still have a Gang Unit, it's just not as robust as it once was."

Pegi McEvoy, safety director for the Seattle School District, pointed out that, as far as schools are concerned, the district has jurisdiction to deal with any violent or disruptive incidents up to the borders of the campus property line. McEvoy added that, in certain circumstances such as student fights, the district does have extended disciplinary jurisdiction if the perpetrator's behavior is seen to have a negative effect on the school.


On the subject of schools calling in help from SPD, McEvoy said that "we do that more often than not," though she added that the district is trying to improve on that front as well.

McEvoy noted that the district employs a staff of 39 security specialists, with most of them assigned to cover the district's high schools. There are three safety personnel at Cleveland High School alone, she pointed out, as well as various "mobile specialists" who are sort of free agents working the district at large.

However, McEvoy said more is needed.

"Just like the police," she explained, "we have a limited staff as well."

Andhra Lutz, principal at Asa Mercer Middle School, called safety "the number one priority" at her school, adding that "we do not hesitate to call the police" when they are needed. She said sometimes the school can go several weeks without a call to police, while there are some days when SPD will be called in four or five times.

Lutz said Mercer has one security staffer assigned to the school, in addition to Mercer's two assistant principals whose "primary function is to monitor the building."

Beyond that, she noted, Mercer's population of 800 students are included as part of the school's security detail.

"They're our most effective" in monitoring the school grounds, Lutz said, pointing out that maintaining a safe environment for learning is a message emphasized with every student.

"We set up lots of ways that kids can talk to us," the principal explained. "They can ask for help, and we will do something about it. We try and just watch everybody. We really care about keeping kids safe."

Lutz said she tries to offset any stigma about kids reporting peer crime - some students are scared of ratting out their fellow students - by emphasizing the positive aspect of such behavior.

"The language that we're using is not 'no snitching,' but to ask for help," she explained.


Robert Stowers from Seattle Parks Department said that parks staff can certainly work to trim the brush back in areas of low visibility, in order to make those places safer for students to travel.

"Trees are another issue," Stowers said, adding that cutting back such growth is something that would have to be put to a vote.

Other than that, Stowers assured those attending the meeting that safety concerns would come into consideration whenever a new park is being designed, and especially public space that contains brush and other hindrances to visibility.

Stowers also address the idea of placing security cameras in parks.

"There's a lot of issues with having cameras in public areas," he said. "The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is not so enamored of that. It may be a coming thing, in a limited matter."

Still, Stowers said, "I think we can ask our staff to be a little more attentive" when it comes to monitoring parks for safety. "I think we can keep going to our upper management and saying, 'This is what we need.'"

Jefferson Community Center coordinator Jennifer Wagner said she's concerned about people not reporting incidents of bullying on center grounds.

"We want to know what's going on, and if nobody's coming in and telling us, we don't have any idea," Wagner said.

She explained that, although state law requires a certain ratio of staff to kids at any community center, there often aren't enough adults to keep an eye on everything.

"Unfortunately, we just don't have the resources to be going out there and constantly monitoring," Wagner said of staff patrolling the center's grounds.

Rick Levin may be reached

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