A self-proclaimed privacy advocate seeking the names of all of the city’s Block Watch captains has left Block Watch captains scratching their heads wondering what he wants the information for.
A self-proclaimed privacy advocate’s efforts to obtain the names, addresses and home phone numbers for Block Watch captains and hosts of “National Night Out” block parties the past two years has Seattle police and others questioning his motives.
But Keith Gormezano says it comes down to plain curiosity. “I’ve always been privacy-motivated and I was curious,” he said. “To me, it was just a routine public-disclosure request.”
Gormezano said that, as a taxpayer, he wanted to verify the assertion of Seattle police that there were 3,800 Block Watch groups citywide when he filed his request for the information under the state’s Public Disclosure Act. When police fulfilled his most recent request last month, he received names for only about 400 Block Watch members in the department’s South and Southwest precincts.
Police emailed those whose information is subject to public disclosure to alert them to Gormezano’s request, but indicated only names would be released. Since then, Gormezano says he has faced questions and accusations over social media and directly from clients of his private QuickBooks training company.
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One commenter on the WestSeattleBlog.com posted: “Definitely makes me think twice about participating in Block Watch.”
The response puzzles Gormezano. He says this is the third time since 2006 he has requested the names and other identifying information of the Block Watch captains, but the first time he has faced such a backlash.
Gormezano’s request is legal under the Public Disclosure Act, which requires public agencies to turn over information in a timely manner. Seattle police say they were planning to fulfill the request, but they took the unusual step of alerting those whose personal information will be released.
Police, in a string of emails sent to Block Watch leaders and subscribers to the South and Southwest precincts’ crime-safety newsletter, explained Gormezano’s request. Mark Solomon, the precincts’ crime-prevention coordinator, identified Gormezano by name and said it was unclear why Gormezano wanted the information.
“I’ve received dozens of responses on this,” Solomon wrote. “Many of you are upset, curious and some block captains have quit as a result.”
Assistant Chief Steve Wilske, in a separate email sent last month to Block Watch members, said the request sought the names, addresses, home phone numbers, fax numbers and email addresses for people who helped organize a “Night Out Against Crime” party in August 2014 and those who signed up for the event last summer.
However, Wilske’s email said the way state law is written, the department was only required to release the names and not other personal information. A spokeswoman for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office said any information, beyond a person’s name given, for a “volunteer roster” is exempt under state law.
Wilske could not be reached Wednesday. Solomon declined to comment for this story.
A police spokesman said Wednesday 2,000 to 3,000 active block watches are in Seattle.
Gormezano called the police response to his request “bizarre.”
“When the Police Department is saying we have 3,800 people, it didn’t seem like a believable number. I put in a request to see if it’s a believable number,” Gormezano said, adding “ “If we have 3,800 Block Watches, wouldn’t our crime rate be less?”
Police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said, “The department is going to follow law” in addressing the public-records requests.
“We really value the relationships we have with members of the community and people who take time to improve the safety and quality of life in their neighborhoods,” he said.
Among those concerned with Gormezano’s request is Mariana Quarnstrom, who runs a neighborhood Block Watch near Seward Park. “We don’t know what this guy is going to do with this information,” she says.
Quarnstrom said she supports Gormezano’s requests if it unifies Block Watch captains across the city. She said there is no coordination between the groups and Seattle police do nothing to connect them.
Gormezano apologized for upsetting anyone with his public-information request.
“On one hand, I shouldn’t have to say I’m sorry for exercising my rights, but occasionally people are going to be sensitive about their issues,” he said, adding if apologizing “ will make them feel better, it’s just easier to do.”