Crime wave has some Southeast Seattle residents looking to police for solutions that may lie elsewhere.

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Few things a community deals with strike the gut quite as hard as crime. I don’t mean white-collar crime, but street crime, physically violent crime.

Southeast Seattle has had more than usual recently, and residents overflowed a meeting to talk about it Monday evening.

Lots of neighborhoods can have a spike in crime, but it may be more worrisome in the southeast part of the city because it was hit hard during the crack-cocaine epidemic, and no one wants to return to that.

Police were at the center of the meeting, but what made Southeast Seattle safer was not just the police response, but a concerted effort by the community to clean itself up.

Crime affects and is affected by every other aspect of a community, and the discussion reflected that.

I can’t capture all that happened in this space, but I can tell you it didn’t feel like business as usual.

The Lakewood Seward Park Community Club and the Southeast Crime Prevention Council hosted the meeting. South Precinct Commander Capt. Mike Nolan and his staff were supposed to speak, but the program expanded.

Seattle Police Chief John Diaz and Assistant Chief Nick Metz joined them. City Councilmember Bruce Harrell opened the meeting. Councilmember Nick Lacata was there, and so was City Attorney Pete Holmes.

And the crowd overflowed the community club, leaving lots of people out in the cold listening through windows.

The police addressed the three issues that drew most of the crowd: recent high-profile crimes, serial street robberies and residential burglaries.

There was a significant spike in crime from September through the end of the last year, and Nolan said his officers have gotten it under control.

The department has made arrests or identified suspects in the high-profile crimes: shootings, a knife assault, a convenience-store robbery and an attempted robbery at a pet store.

The street robberies near bus stops or light-rail stations involved mostly teenagers and young adults. Police have identified three groups, all affiliated with local gangs, and arrested members of those groups. One of the gangs was led by a 14-year-old, Nolan said.

The monthly burglary rate, which during the fall was twice its usual rate, is back down to 12 to 14 a month. Police are in the process of arresting the people they believe were responsible for those break-ins.

Most of the arrests were of juveniles. It’s pretty obvious that the community would be better off if young people weren’t turning to gangs in the first place.

Diaz and his officers outlined a number of tactics for preventing crime, including a focus on habitual offenders, diversion to rehabilitation when that seems promising, and community crime walks to show criminals the streets don’t belong to them. And they talked about the importance of keeping young people in school and giving them alternatives to the streets.

Diaz said Mayor Mike McGinn had called city department heads together and told them crime is more than a police problem.

Every department has a role to play in preventing and reducing crime.

McGinn is right.

The officers called on residents to take responsibility for their neighborhoods. Criminals avoid places where people are looking out for each other.

I’d go further and say young people are much less likely to turn to crime in communities where people look out for each other.

One woman said she’d spent years volunteering in schools to help good kids, and maybe it was time she volunteered to help the bad kids.

She immediately recognized that that wasn’t exactly how she wanted to put it, and the very popular Officer Cookie (Denise Bouldin), suggested “at-risk kids” was the preferable term.

How we think about the kids in our communities, and how they think about themselves, matters.

Reduce the risks they face, and we reduce the risks we will face later.

When some of a community’s young people are a major source of its fear, that’s a problem that requires much more than police work.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.