Monday, December 7, 2009

Crime is on the rise: what are we going to do about it?

For those paying attention there’s been plenty of anecdotal evidence over the past few months that crime is escalating in our community. Car prowlings and burglaries seem to be commonplace, and some surprisingly brazen break-ins of homes and businesses have also been reported. If we’re feeling vulnerable, there’s a good reason. Crime really is up in the neighborhood, and recent crime statistics confirm the trend.

What this amounts to is a 20% uptick so far this year in major crimes reported in our Seattle Police beat (known as Charlie 3). While this is certainly worrisome, it is almost nothing in comparison to the 84% increase in burglaries reported for the same period:

There has also been a 50% rise in car thefts between the first and third quarters of the year:

Although property crimes apparently tend to increase during better weather (windows left open, etc.), it seems that the trend this year is much more dramatic than would be the simple result of seasonality. Unfortunately we can’t know for sure, since the Seattle Police decided to jettison their historic method of reporting neighborhood crime. Through 2008, crime statistics for the Madison Park neighborhood (Census Tract 63) were broken out from the City numbers and reported. Now, the department only releases crime data for the larger Charlie 3 beat, which also includes Montlake and Madison Valley. Looking just at Madison Park for 2008, however, there clearly was not a bump in burglaries between the summer and fall quarters, as is happening on our beat this year:

For the City as a whole, major crimes are up 8% year over year; while burglaries are up only 3% and vehicle thefts are actually down 15%.

So we’ve got a problem. But what’s to be done?

At the request of Madison Park Community Council member Alice Lanczos, the Seattle Police’s crime prevention coordinator for our area, Benjamin Kinlow, spoke at the Council’s regular meeting last month. What he told those assembled is that the best way to prevent crime is for the community to become vigilant and organized. One of the most important things, he said, is for people to have timely information on what’s happening in their area. He reported that he tries to alert neighbors to burglaries by leafleting homes with a “Burglary Alert” when a break-in has occurred near their house:

He admitted, however, that he has been running behind in getting these Alerts out. He told me that as of today he is current on Alerts for burglaries occurring through November 19, about two weeks ago. One of the reasons it is difficult for him to be get caught up is that he is the only crime prevention officer covering a huge swath of the City. The East Precinct’s crime prevention position was eliminated in a budget cut in 2007; and Kinlow, who is based in the Southwest Precinct, has only had responsibility for covering the East Precinct since May.

So while we do have some Seattle Police assistance with our crime prevention efforts, Madison Park is somewhat on its own when it comes to stopping the escalation in crime. As noted in a previous posting, Madison Park has not had enough crime to warrant regular patrols. This may be changing.

Block Watches

Kinlow recommends block watches as one of the best ways to tackle the problem. He noted, for example, that View Ridge has a very sophisticated program where there’s a volunteer “trustee” for each two blocks of the community. This volunteer receives reports from anyone in the two-block coverage area who experiences a crime, and this information is then communicated to all of the other neighbors in the coverage area. It is also passed on to the other “trustees” throughout the neighborhood, who can then inform their own neighbors.

There are some informal block watches in Madison Park (the one in my area of the Park includes neighbors in a three or four block area). But when the subject came up at a Council meeting last summer, we learned that there has been no effort to date to formally coordinate a network of block watchers or to set up block watches in areas where they don’t already exist. There was actually resistance by some to a formalized block watch, although everyone agreed that the sharing of information about crime was needed.


Another way to share crime reports is through a community website or blog. Kinlow points to the West Seattle Blog’s “Crime Watch” page as a template for this kind of effort. Unfortunately, Madison Park does not currently have an established website or blog with sufficient coverage to make this idea workable. While the West Seattle Blog has been around for years and has readership in the thousands, this blog is new and is unknown to most members of the Madison Park community. At this point Madison Park Blogger can function as a resource, but it is clearly inadequate to the purpose of notifying the community about crime in the area. Any new website established to communicate this information would have the same limitations as this site. The principal problem is figuring out how to get people to tune in.

I am open to helping with a block watch/crime communication program if there are others who are interested in starting such a movement. I invite your suggestions and comments (just click on the “Comments” tag at the end of this posting, or email me at the address in the right-hand column).

Later this week, in Part II of this report, we will take a look at some practical suggestions by the Seattle Police for stopping burglars before they get the chance to rip you off. Be informed.

[Photo by foxymcslick on Flickr.]


  1. Bryan Tagas has been doing such a darned good job, that I hereby nominate him as the Puget Sound area "Journalist of the year." I feel that his stuff is better than the newspapers we actually pay for. Congratulations, Bryan, for a wonderful job!!!!!! Happy Holidays, Harvey Greenberg - Madison Park

  2. Harvey I totally agree with you! Bryan is a terrific neighborhood resource. I heartily second your nomination. What I like about his blog is that it is not about him it is about his neighborhood.


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