SPD Takes New Steps to Address Property Crime, Street Disorder

The Seattle Police Department is taking new steps to address property crime and street disorder, including additional training for officers and potentially changing how 911 calls are handled.

The department, for example, is considering increasing the priority of calls that come in regarding property crime, and dedicating staff to handle non-emergency calls, to reduce wait times.

SPD Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers outlined the plan to Seattle City Council members on Wednesday. The department is making the changes in response to recent community concerns raised about property crimes, disorder, and the amount of time 911 callers spend waiting on the phone for non-emergency crimes.

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole last month ordered a review of how the department handles property crime and disorder.

Property crimes, including auto thefts and car prowls, are up significantly compared to last year, however the department has been bending the curve in recent months with an increased emphasis on “low-level” crimes. For example, there was a 34 percent drop in auto thefts and a 25 percent decrease in car prowls, from October to November of this year.

“Are we claiming victory? Absolutely not,” Wagers said. “It just shows that by focusing attention on the right places and the right people we can have an impact.”

New actions being taken by SPD include issuing a department-wide directive to officers outlining the importance of focusing on property crimes. The directive will stress that dealing with those types of crimes “is important to the citizens and it’s putting us in touch with offenders we need to engage,” Wagers said.

The Department also is providing comprehensive instructions and training for tracking electronic devices such as cell phones and computers. SPD has already created a technical point of contact for officers to call in case there’s confusion, such as whether a search warrant is needed to enter a home where a GPS signal pinpoints a stolen device.

In addition, a team will be created to examine how SPD handles digital technologies including GPS signals, and digital images of suspected criminals taken by citizens. The team will report back to the chief in January.

SPD also wants to partner with the private sector to create an information management system that can pull in reports of crime from a variety of sources, ranging from a traditional filing at a police station to information that comes in through social media.

Many of the proposed changes deal with 911 calls. While the department has gotten high marks from Seattle residents regarding police response to emergencies, there have been complaints about how long people sometimes wait to report other types of crimes, such as car prowls.

Currently, non-emergency calls are diverted to a phone tree that directs callers based on types of crimes. Waiting times can be extensive.

The department is considering a number of steps including dedicating staff to non-emergency calls to reduce wait times, and using new software to provide other options, such as having 911 call back when a dispatcher is free, or perhaps even schedule a time for a return call.