Here’s an idea, sent in by a bunch of readers, about what to do if you can’t get the police to come when you call.
Hire your own cops.
Well, it worked for Laurelhurst.
Across Seattle, neighborhood groups are meeting with police this week to implore them to do something about Washington’s soaring property-crime rate, which has now risen to the highest in the nation. At two meetings Tuesday in North Seattle they begged police to at least up their response to 911 calls.
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But a few years back, Laurelhurst took a more businesslike approach when it was having these same problems with car prowls, burglaries and vandalism. It hired its own mini police force.
“Subscribe now to Laurelhurst’s Private Security Patrol,” reads the November newsletter for the neighborhood due east of the University of Washington.
Calling it a “police force” is probably a stretch. Laurelhurst still is patrolled, officially, by the Seattle Police Department, and all 911 calls remain routed to the city.
But on any given night, listening in to those calls, and potentially responding to them first, could be off-duty cops paid for by a fund set up by Laurelhurst residents.
According to the newsletter, here’s what you get for $200 per family per year: “Uniformed, off-duty Seattle Police officers patrol the neighborhood approximately six nights/days a week for five hours each shift. Officers are in uniform, carry police radios and their police firearms and drive unmarked personal vehicles. They monitor incoming 911 calls and will respond to any Laurelhurst calls if on patrol and work with the official response from the on-duty police officers.”
A number of readers sent me the Laurelhurst private-patrol fundraising appeal after I was unable to get police to help with a van full of car prowlers last month.
“I bet if you had been in Laurelhurst somebody would have come,” one reader wrote to me. “Your mistake was being in a regular part of town.”
There’s no way of gauging if that’s true — or at least I don’t have the data to support that. But it is interesting that the reason Laurelhurst hired its own security force six years ago was frustration with a rash of low-level crime combined with little backup from city police.
When the idea first came up, in 2008, only 40 Laurelhurst families were projected to join what was a temporary pilot program. They borrowed the plan from the more exclusive neighborhood to the north, Windermere, where residents pay $575 a year in part to have off-duty Seattle Police and a private firm patrol year-round.
But 90 Laurelhurst families signed up immediately. By last year more than 350 families paid into the private patrol fund. So they obviously feel it does some good.
“Laurelhurst Community Club has had very positive response to this program to deter the increasing number of burglaries, car prowls, auto thefts, and vandalism in Laurelhurst,” the fundraising plea says.
If hiring their own cops works for Laurelhurst, great. Who knows, it may even free up some regular police resources for the rest of us.
But increasingly it does seem like we’re living in a tale of two cities.
It’s not just with hiring your own cops, which most neighborhoods probably can’t do. The public-transit system may stink, but Microsoft and Amazon have their own private shuttle services. The school district may be dysfunctional, pulling teachers from classrooms midyear, but some parents can hire their own at 90 grand apiece. In the Amazon jungle, the transportation system may be jammed, but privately paid, off-duty police flaggers are there to stop traffic on public streets so the tech overlords can get out of their parking garages.
“Can your employer afford to buy your way out of your garage? Good for you,” read one comment on our story this week about the flaggers. “For everybody else, tough luck. Is that really how things are supposed to work?”
You get what you pay for, I guess. In Seattle, circa 2014, sometimes it feels like that old saying has never been more true.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org