Did last Friday’s protest pull the police from other neighborhoods? They say no, but it’s a mystery why it took four hours for police to show for a hit- and-run in Maple Leaf.
Last Friday night, neighbors on a usually quiet street in the Maple Leaf neighborhood heard a violent smashing. When they ran outside they saw it was a hit-and-run, in progress.
A Dodge pickup truck had caromed into three parked cars in succession and was now scraping its own disabled front end down the road, sending up sparks. After a block, the driver jumped out of the truck and ran off into the night.
So they called 911. Who wouldn’t, right?
“We were figuring these were crimes,” says Brian Jeffries, who had two cars crushed in the crash. “Hit-and-run, abandoning his truck in the street. Probably drunk driving. You figure you should call the police.”
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But the police didn’t come. Each time a neighbor called 911, the dispatcher said an officer would be sent as soon as possible. Jeffries waited more than three hours, until after 2:30 a.m.
At one point he was startled to see some acquaintances of the driver come back to retrieve the hit-and-run truck.
“We called 911 immediately to say they were towing the truck away from the crime scene,” Jeffries said. “But that didn’t get the police to come either.”
“I’ve got to say I’m completely dumbfounded,” he added.
City records show an officer did arrive at 3:18 Saturday morning — more than four hours after the first calls. By then the truck was gone and all the Maple Leaf neighbors had given up and gone to bed.
The next day, an officer phoned the Jeffries family. Jeffries said the officer blamed the big protest last week at Westlake Center for the delay.
“They said something like: ‘I don’t know if you are aware, but we had all available officers in downtown Seattle last night for the Black Lives Matter protest,’ ” Jeffries said.
Seattle police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb groaned when I relayed him this story. Big protests can tax the department’s resources. But the Black Lives Matter protest did not, he insisted. In any event “we’re absolutely not supposed to staff protests downtown at the expense of the other neighborhoods.”
But police union President Ron Smith says the story doesn’t surprise him at all.
“These precincts are staffed to the bare bones already, even without a protest downtown,” he said.
Smith says that when he started with the department 22 years ago, each squad routinely had 12 to 14 patrol officers. Each squad covers a sector, which is roughly a neighborhood. Now he says there are often only five or six patrol officers per squad.
“So it’s like when you had your iPhone car-prowled that time and you’ve got it tracked to a van, the thieves are sitting there and you’re calling 911, but nobody comes,” Smith said. “That happens because there aren’t enough officers to be dispatched.
“We just don’t have the bodies we need as a police force. It’s becoming a safety issue for Seattle.”
Smith said Seattle has the same size police force now as it had in the 1970s.
Since we had that big debate a year ago about property crimes and the police’s lack of response, the stats show the department has been making a dent. Car prowls are down 17 percent, car thefts minus 35 percent, and total property crimes are down 12 percent, all from a year ago.
Still, Whitcomb said that a four-hour response time for an active hit-and-run is “just not OK.” He said the department would look into how it happened.
Jeffries said he couldn’t tell whether the police didn’t come because they were too busy or because they continue to discount property crimes. Citing the protest as a reason for not showing up struck him as “excuse-making.”
“It seemed like more of a mentality was at work, rather than just a staffing issue,” he said.
In the end, the Jeffries family became frustrated enough they decided to just file claims with their own insurance to fix their cars. So police closed the case — without ever really opening one in the first place.
“It means that driver faces no consequences,” Jeffries said. “It turns out it was to his benefit to flee the scene. I’m a law-and-order type guy, and that type of thing eats at me.”