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Survey: Seattleites voice concerns for car prowls, police capacity

Seattle police. (KIRO 7)

A new survey outlines a handful of public safety concerns within Seattle, most prominently car prowls, and a lack of police capacity.

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The survey conducted by Seattle University’s criminal justice department polled over 6,500 people across various police precincts, asking them to detail their biggest public safety concerns in 2018 and describe those concerns in detail. Of those who participated, over 70 percent selected one of either car prowls or police capacity among their top concerns. Homelessness was the third most selected concern at just under 60 percent.

The survey also asked for “narrative comments,” where respondents could outline general safety and security issues in their own words. Seattle’s homeless crisis was the most prominent theme in those comments, with over 20 percent mentioning it in some way. Second was a lack of police capacity, followed by “public order crime.”

Despite being the top concern in the survey, car prowl crimes in Seattle have actually decreased across the last three years, from 13,105 in 2016, to 12,412 in 2017, and then 11,602 in 2018. Car prowls are also down year-over-year as of April 2019, when Seattle Police crime data was last updated.

Police capacity, though, has proven more problematic on a substantive level. With many SPD officers either leaving for other cities or retiring, it’s left the department short on personnel. KTTH’s Jason Rantz reported back in July that SPD staffing is stretched so thin, that at many times across various precincts, officers will only respond to priority calls.

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Priority calls (or as many officers call them, “priority ones”) generally include emergencies in progress (or happening near the time of the 911 call), with a suspect description. If someone calls to report an issue of domestic violence, for example, the call is handled as quickly as possible. This also means officers won’t quickly respond to calls, for example, about a drug deal on a street corner or if you wake up to a car break-in.

Per SPD policy, priority call handling “is used when on-street resources from one or more precincts are depleted significantly below normal staffing.” According to Seattle Police Sergeant Sean Whitcomb, it is a “frequent occurrence; it happens with a degree of frequency.”

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