The last Southwest Precinct Commander? Captain Kevin Grossman shares his views
The Seattle City Council will vote Aug.10 on a budget rebalancing measure that could result in a cut to the Seattle Police Budget of 50%. The proposal supported by King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle also demands that once passed the Council should reallocate those funds to community led health and safety systems and release protestors arrested during this uprising without charges. The plan under consideration would cut $169 million from the current $409 million SPD budget to create a new Community Safety Department. All the amendments in the budget considerations can be found here https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/7011852-Seattle-City-Council-Po… .
Seven of nine council members have expressed support for the move but the Seattle Police Guild has said the defunding of the SPD would mean that up to 800 officers (over half in the department) would be fired. It would also mean longer 911 response times and higher crime rates.
They’ve launched a site www.stopdefunding.com to stop the defunding that they say has gotten more than 100,000 signatures supporting them.
Chief Carmen Best has responded in a letter to the Mayor detailing her opposition to the cuts and saying the Southwest Precinct would have to be closed among many other impacts.
Taking on the leadership role at a Police precinct is a challenge at any time. Given the current level of uncertainty about the role of police in society it becomes a job with often more questions than answers.
Captain Kevin Grossman, is the new commander at the Seattle Police Southwest Precinct and he sat for some questions from Westside Seattle about where we are, his concerns, and where we are going.
How did Captain Davis and others prepare you for this role?
I have to give credit to former Chief Kathleen O’Toole who really built up the department’s capacity for data mining and data sharing, dashboards and that sort of thing. Then every two weeks we meet in C-Stat (CompStat a combination of management, philosophy, and organizational management tools for police departments), It gets all the chiefs in the room, all the captains and we all hear what’s trending in our precincts and what issues we’re facing. I was the Captain at the South Precinct so Captain Davis and I had communicated about many things like homelessness, like the RV’s, they went back and forth across the Duwamish, to SODO, Georgetown and South Park. We had a lot of problems in common such as car theft with cars being stolen and dumped in another precinct. Covid 19 and the closure of the West Seattle Bridge have dropped the crime rate in West Seattle by 17% over last year. Record low crime rates in West Seattle. West Seattle is the best in the city in terms of crime rate drop. The one area we are up in is auto theft. It’s hard to get a handle on and it’s a property crime. Our criminal justice system doesn’t handle it right. There are low consequences. So you have these people, and we’ll arrest them, even multiple days in a row for auto theft and they just get out every time. It may be small number of people committing these thefts but there isn’t a whole lot to deter them.
What about “The Club” or other theft deterrent devices?
When I was a young officer in the North precinct. I was paired with a very very senior officer and I remember going to an auto theft report with him. One of the check boxes on the form was, you had to ask if there was any kind of steering wheel lock on the car. He asked me, “Have you yet taken a stolen car report from anyone who’s had one of those on their car?” I thought about it and said, “No I have not.” I’ve never had someone say, “I had the club on my car and yet my car was still stolen.” So I’m a big believer in some kind of steering wheel lock device… Most criminals are looking for the shortcut.
What about the potential closure of the precinct that has been discussed?
It’s concerning for sure. I spoke to my officers…and told everyone to take a deep breath. I actually had officers asking me if they would be receiving a pink slip… I’ve been told some of them are looking to move laterally to other places. I know that’s alarmist but I don’t expect we will be closing the precinct anytime soon. But I am concerned. When I was in field training in the South Precinct, and the Bridge was open, even then the response time was not great. So if they close this facility, it will be staffed out of the South Precinct as it was in the 90’s and before. You’ll have officers having to come all the way over here from there. But to be completely honest, the officers who work here identify with West Seattle. Maybe more than any other place. They feel well treated by the residents here and appreciated. They feel a connection to the neighborhoods they work in. If they were to be staffed out of the Rainier Valley, that’s where they would park their cars, where they would write reports, where they would get their lunch. They would only come over here to answer calls. That would be a huge loss for the rapport for the officers here.
Have calls to defund the police hurt the morale in the department?
I think it has… If you look at the list of services we’d have to potentially get rid of….We’ve added 200,000 people to the city in the last decade and yet our staffing has not really changed all that much since the 70’s…On the patrol side you have just shy of 700 officers, working across three different shifts across five different precincts. It’s not a lot officers when you think about it. Officers see that and, if they are going to have a job and if they do, what that job would look like. Is it just going call, to call, to call? If you worked for an employer that paid you well, gave you good benefits but consistently treated you poorly, called you names, denigrated you as a human being, I don’t know that you’d keep working for that employer. I’m speaking for myself but when all I hear out of our elected officials is nothing but contempt for what we do… I consider myself a dedicated public servant. I’ve been doing police work for 24 years. I do this out of a sense of community and a sense of service. I think most people sign up for that…they want to make a difference in their career. To be called a murderer, to have this stereotype of me as a police officer who comes to work to shoot people or kill people? I don’t recognize that. It’s not what I see in myself. It’s not what I see in my officers. To have that constant rhetoric from our elected officials, it beats you down.
We’ve heard from others in the SPD that people are leaving the department. How do you recruit?
I have friends in other parts of the country who see the news. How do you convince a 20 something college graduate who is looking to be a police officer, how do you convince them Seattle is the right place? It’s a tough sell right now.
Why do the police not have better tools to handle violent people?
I would love to have better tools or technology that would allow us to use less force. I think everyone would be on the same page if we had something that would allow us to use less force. Pepper spray for instance is a tool that we use that doesn’t cause for the most part, as far as I know, permanent damage. My point is, if you take away something like Pepper Spray and you are left with a baton. If you looked at the riots in Chicago in 1968, they did a lot of things we wouldn’t do today but all they had were batons. They cause a lot of damage if that’s your only method to move a crowd or subdue someone. We’ve had a lot of training in the last decade trying to use verbal tactics and be more patient with people on the street. 20 years ago we wouldn’t have been so patient… I’d rather have you negotiate with someone for two hours and not have to use force than resolve the situation in five minutes using force, having to hurt people. We have as a luxury the staffing to have multiple officers on a call. If you can have two or three officers bring someone down by holding their arms so no one gets hurt, I’d much rather have that.
Are there other restraints than handcuffs you could use?
When the consent decree started, we had to file a report every time someone complained of injury by handcuffs. I think it caused officers to be more thoughtful about their use of handcuffs… One thing, you can lock them so they don’t get tighter. When officers write their reports they have to note if the cuffs were “gaged and locked” which means you put them on, make sure they are not too tight, but that they won’t slip off and lock them so they won’t get tighter. When I was at South Precinct I worked with an officer who made a lot of arrests and he noted that people were complaining of injuries so he looked into another type of cuffs that had beveled edges. ‘I bought a pair myself and they seem to be working’ he said. So I brought that up to then Asst. Chief Wilske and he made a pilot project out of it and ended up buying them for the whole bureau. Everyone in SPD has been issued beveled cuffs.
Many police trainings outside the department are called Warrior style training. What is your attitude about this?
It’s so counter productive, the Us vs Them mentality. I don’t want anyone to see us as an occupying force or anything like that. When I attended the academy more than 24 years ago I will say it was more of a warrior training. Sue Rahr the former Sheriff and now Executive Director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. She really has done a good job in making the full transition to “We’re not warriors. We’re guardians of the communities we serve”. Every graduate that comes out of the Washington State Academy has that core foundational training.
I make it a point to meet with every brand new officer to get to know them. I want to give them my philosophy of policing is that it’s a service profession. I was an Eagle Scout and I think it comes from my background in scouting that service to others is what we’re all about. I’m not a big fan of the term “law enforcement” because that’s only one tiny bit of what we do. When I came out of law school, I was interested in going to the FBI… I chose policing. Policing is protecting the vulnerable, protecting children, protecting the elderly. I like to think of policing as the oil that makes the machinery of society work. We’re making that traffic flows and that commerce flows and that people aren’t taken advantage of. Yes, sometimes we’re going to put handcuffs on people because they choose to violate the laws that our elected officials have established. But that’s rare. We do a ton of mediation of disputes.
The police are called to do many things that perhaps they shouldn’t. What areas should the police not be handling?
Homelessness issues, adding that to the plate of police duties. Police are expensive because of the training and equipment we have and I want us to be very judicious in how we use well trained and armed police officers, and whether it’s the best fit for the job. A lot of homelessness is drug abuse issues, a lot of it is mental health issues and police officers just aren’t going to fix that.
The outreach to homeless folks is better accomplished by the mental health and drug abuse professionals.
I really like the Cahoots model (practiced in Eugene Oregon for the last 30 years.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ben Brubaker Coordinator of the White Bird Clinic in Eugene said in an interview on NPR “Calls that come in to the police non-emergency number and/or through the 911 system, if they have a strong behavioral health component, if there are calls that do not seem to require law enforcement because they don't involve a legal issue or some kind of extreme threat of violence or risk to the person, the individual or others, then they will route those to our team - comprised of a medic and a crisis worker - that can go out and respond to the call, assess the situation, assist the individual if possible, and then help get that individual to a higher level of care or necessary service if that's what's really needed”).
I think it’s a great idea and the good side of “Defund the Police”, let’s have a conversation about what’s appropriate.
We seem to have lost a certain quality of relationship between the police and the public. Why is that and what can we do to fix it?
The two factors that have really put a knife in the heart of community and police relations are the 911 system and policing by car. Would I get rid of those? Of course not. They are huge advances and good things. But we over rely on 911. My officers are going from call to call. Some of these calls could be handled over the internet or with a phone call. We’re taking reports for insurance companies for collisions. I don’t see why we need an armed police officer for that. When my officers are going from call to call they can’t spend time with the community to actually build relationships.
Policing by car allows us to answer a lot more calls and we can police a wider area. But it means they spend more time in their cars. That’s my concern about lowered staffing. Unless we have that conversation about what calls are answered by 911 and what’s not? You’ll have a fewer number of officers to answer the same number of 911 calls.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In 2019 Seattle Police had 461,334 calls for service. You can learn more about all calls for every year going back to 2010 on the SPD Calls for Service Dashboard
The dashboard shows that in 2019:
Alaska Junction had 7,116
Highland Park 5038
Alki had 5026
North Admiral 4974
North Delridge 3641
Morgan Junction 3504
Commercial Duwamish 1069
Now that we have lowered speed limits as part of SDOT’s Vision Zero plan, is there a plan for speed enforcement in the works?
I am going to start looking at that. I’ve gotten complaints about various areas of the district. They are low and people have to be patient. I might ask our traffic section to bring their motorcycle officers over to do emphasis patrols. I am still trying to figure out where to do it. It’s resource dependent. Enforcement has a place but I’m dubious about its long term effects. For long term engineering is more effective like road diets, speed bumps I would be willing to work with SDOT and the community to advocate for those projects.
The RV’s on Harbor Ave SW are no longer moving every 72 hours. Can you fill us in on that?
The Mayor has put a moratorium on moving RVs where people are living in them as well as the encampments. This is to reduce the spread of COVID. At the moment we are not moving them. We still get complaints and we still do some outreach. A lot of it is gentle encouragement to remove trash or to get resources to them. It’s a constant effort.
For a long time the Police Blotter was a feature of the newspaper but it came to an end last year when we were told staffing was making it too difficult. What can we do about that?
I believe in transparency. I want the people of West Seattle knowing what we’re doing. I’ve been advocating for my own Twitter account for awhile and I hear that might be coming to fruition. We use Next Door right now since that’s what I’ve been told we can use. But I’ve been told by Sgt. Truscott that we are about do something that takes advantage of something we already do. We have a list of what are called Serious Incidents. The Sgt. has to do a little piece on what it was and how it was resolved. It kind of reads like a blotter. What I’ve been told is that it’s just about to be rolled out, pushed out to the public so you can see it, sort it by precinct and will come out regularly.
Back in the 1970’s we had a “beat cop” in the junction that everyone knew. It created a sense of trust and familiarity. What are the chances we might do that again at some point?
It’s so staffing dependent at the moment. I don’t see being able to do it. But as we talked about previously, if we can have an honest conversation about what calls need a police officer and what calls can be handled some other way that might free up officers to do something like that. Maybe some of this will happen because of the budget. Even before COVID, we were talking about how to allocate resources. One of the things I tell my officers is “own your district” I want you to be the police officer for that district. I want people in that district to know you. That’s my ideal.
You’ve had many jobs as a police officer What do you want to accomplish in West Seattle?
I want this to be the best precinct in Seattle. I want us to have the most motivated officers. I want my detective squad to be the best at what they do. i have an ACT (anti crime team) and I want them to be the best and be admired by other ACT teams in the city. I want people to think they can talk to us and tell us what their priorities are in terms of enforcement. I really rely on the community to tell me what is impacting their quality of life.
People can communicate with me through Next Door, or email at kevin.Grossman@Seattle.gov., Community Meetings, which I think are very important.
nice to hear policemans & policewoman input // I've been to the woman safety meeting _ well worth time and information. ( your officers were wonderful). I do believe our (or their!! - party of seven) city council should get more training. Maybe a month of mixed calls that you handle. They need a reality check. How can party of seven and "the block party" control this city ??? ( ps please don't publish my thoughts) WHY??
SEATTLE was a gem. I don't get it -- is there a comparison between Tacoma, Bellevue, etc as to how we handle homeless - are we really number 3 in the nation? WHY?? who tied who's hands
I've heard from friends, from other states, " Seattle is known as FreeSeattle"
ok I'm done - these are my thoughts only to you