New commander settles into the job

In early July, Captain Landy Black took over the reins as East Precinct commander from Captain Mike Meehan.

Originally from Ohio, Black spent six years in the military. He was stationed at Fort Lewis when he left the service, decided he liked the area and has called Seattle home ever since. He finished university and was hired by the Seattle Police Department in 1982. Following graduation from the police academy the following year, Black served for seven years at the East Precinct.

He worked next in the North Precinct, and following a promotion to sergeant, in the West Precinct, primarily in Pioneer Square. During this time he worked in the officer field training program. Promoted to lieutenant in 1999, Black initially worked in what was then called the Coordinated Criminal Investigations Unit, in essence the gang unit. He served as night shift watch commander for two years, then operations lieutenant, before moving to internal investigations in 2001. He headed that department as acting captain.

Black was then assigned to the sexual assault and child abuse unit in early 2003, a position made more complicated after he was called up to active duty as a reservist during the current Iraq war. He served for one year in Washington, D.C. until January 2004.

Upon his return, Black was reassigned to the robbery, fugitive and gang unit, a position he held until his promotion to captain this June. He was assigned to the East Precinct in July.

Black recently spoke with Capitol Hill Times editor Doug Schwartz about his new position and the challenges he faces. Below is the second of a two-part interview.

* * *

Have you had a chance to meet with many people and community groups in your first month?

I'm starting to do just that. I'm not going to say I've met everyone just yet. There are a lot of people I've yet to meet with. We had the national night out for block watches last week, and I was able to meet several of the Capitol Hill Block Watch groups. I recently met with a group in the Miller Park area.

Have you learned anything of particular note from these conversations?

Actually, it was much more social at this early stage, not too much talk about specific issues. More just a reminder that people would like to continue to be involved with community discussions in the future.

It's a good way to start, because it's an opportunity where we can meet and be human as opposed to meeting during a controversy where there's a lot of stress.

I'm soon going to meet with the group involved with the park, the Friends of Cal Anderson Park. I'm really looking forward to that because I've already heard a great deal about the effort that group put into where this park is going. I'm looking for those kinds of allies, people who are really committed.

That's where we, as a police department, get our greatest success, where we have broad, allied support from the community, from the businesses and city departments.

Broadway has always been a concern. What's your take on Broadway?

With Broadway, still a problem with loitering youths and drug use. It's still a problem. We now have a couple of dedicated officers walking the beat on Broadway, which has been something that may have fallen by the wayside for awhile. But the walking beat is a great opportunity for us to address some of those problems. 911 calls aren't always effective for unsavory elements on Broadway.

There's often a disconnect between the perception of how safe Broadway is and the reality. From your point of view, how safe is Broadway?

My perception, based on my experience working in this area, and my willingness to have, say, my wife spend time there, is that it's very safe. I know there is disorder and problems there, but I do not have that foreboding feeling of oppression on Broadway.

By and large I think it's as safe a business and entertainment district as there is in the city. I feel safer on Broadway than I would on its equivalent in other cities.

How about the Deano's area?

That area is a challenge for us. It's an area that's been going through quite a bit of economic revitalization, and yet there's this pocket that is a cancer. We are still working with the owners to try and get responsible conduct and good neighborhood activity.

The distressing problems with the 21st and Madison situation is that many of the community members there feel that they are prisoners in their own homes. And that's really disturbing. It's one thing when people feel that there's an unacceptable level of crime. It's another when people feel that they don't even have the liberty to come and go as they choose.

What do you say to people in that situation?

I say that if I have my way you won't have that feeling. I'm sure the neighborhood's been promised that before, which makes my promise seem that much more insignificant.

That's a real challenge for you.

It is. The unfortunate thing is that 20th and Madison was an old problem when I worked up here as a rookie. It's a problem that as a community and a police department that we haven't been able to solve. I think we're getting close right now. We need allies, as I've said. The police department is never going to solve a problem with a long-term end plan. There are nearly 100,000 citizens in the East Precinct's area. There are around 150 officers, who need to be deployed around the clock. There aren't enough resources anywhere for long-term solutions. In the short term, we can probably go in and occupy an area. But it takes the assistance of people who have skills outside of law enforcement to give alternatives to people in that area.

There are a large number of different communities on Capitol Hill. How do you get to know the broad community?

Part of it will be by getting out and about and talking with people as much as I can. But also hearing from consolidated groups, like the East Precinct Crime Prevention Coalition, which gathers a lot of information from many groups and block watches. This gives me a chance in the short term to focus on a smaller number of critical problems. This helps me determine the precinct's priorities.

What do you think of the Alcohol Impact Area?

Conceptually I think it's a great idea. It's not a cure-all. I was involved in the beginning of the AIA in Pioneer Square, and many of the businesses were hesitant to sign on. The problem doesn't go away unless everyone signs. No single piece is the answer. It's a combination of things. It's effective police presence, it's citizens who are aware and willing to get involved, it's businesses that use good business practices, it's city departments that feel their goal is something broader than just providing a basic service.

In some respects you have to be in the middle of all that.

I think that's the job of a police department. It's to be sort of a focal point for quality-of=life issues and to be the bellwether to discuss all of this. Of course, our philosophy in law enforcement is that allied approach. We don't have difficulties once we explain the importance of that to city departments.

What's your general philosophy regarding police work?

I love this profession. It has given me the opportunity to do things that are exiting, intellectually stimulating and give me a sense that I have contributed, that I have been a part of something bigger than myself. Frankly, there are some disappointments. You realize there's a real world out there, it's not all fantasy.

But I'm always driven further forward by the fact that we continue to do good things. In spite of difficulties with budgets, political differences we may have, or high profile incidents that have damaged our reputation, the police department always seems to come through and continue to work diligently on problems.

We haven't locked arms. There are a lot of effective, committed police officers here, and I'm so happy that new officers are coming on board with the same sort of desires and expectations that I did. These young, charged up officers with dreams of doing good things for the community keep all of us inspired.

What does community policing mean to you?

To me, it means being in touch, involving the community in decisions, making alliances and letting people know how they can make their own community safe. Letting the community know how best to communicate with the police about their needs. It incorporates the idea of problem oriented policing as well, because it takes us away form being 9-1-1 driven, to being problem driven.

What are your long-term and short-term goals?

Short term is to get out and meet a lot people and groups. One thing that is a little daunting is that there are so many groups. People are active and involved, and have a bigger voice here than what I might have expected. I want to understand the feelings of as many community groups as possible.

One other goal is to get our staffing up a little more. A problem is that we all compete for resources. I need to become an effective negotiator. The officers and supervisors here are always reminding me that they are stretched quite thin. I want to do something for them. They're doing a great job, but it would be good to provide a little more relief.

What's the hardest part of the job?

It's probably the disappointment of wanting to be all things to everyone and knowing that you have to step back and say that something isn't possible. It's hard to say no, we can't do something. But part of prioritizing is saying no sometimes.

What's the best part?

I think I alluded to it earlier. The sense that I'm doing something bigger than me. Whenever I hear a story of an officer who has come to someone's aid, it makes me so proud. It's how I envisioned police work. To see a community turn around is always special. To see people gain control over their community. There are many rewards.[[In-content Ad]]