Terrie Johnston became the crime prevention coordinator for the Seattle Police Department’s North Precinct about one month ago, but she already knows when her last day will be: Dec. 31. That’s because city budget cuts are forcing the elimination of the program, which provides safety walk-throughs of homes and businesses, coordination of Block Watch captains, and a more personal touch for neighborhoods to contact SPD.
“The bad news is that we have been cut and cut and cut, and we (crime prevention coordinators) are going away on Dec. 31,” she told the Greenwood-Phinney Chamber of Commerce last Friday.
SPD’s Crime Prevention Coordinator program was created in 1973 and has received international attention. Johnston said Seattle’s CPC program was the best in the nation.
“People from other countries used to come and find out how we did it,” she said. “I’m just sad about it. I have over 1,800 block watch captains that I contact.”
Johnston has been with SPD for 30 years and has worked at every precinct except West Seattle.
All crime prevention coordinators have taken training called Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) and will work for free with businesses and homes to assess security issues. (For example, CPTED training helps identify bushes and trees that obscure sight lines in parks or around front and back doors where criminals can hide, as well as how lighting can affect safety.)
Johnston tells business owners and homeowners to frequently check windows, doors, locks, cameras and security systems.
“A lot of it is just human error,” she says of burglaries. “They run to the bank and forget to set the alarm, or they could have sworn they locked that back door.”
As a CPC, Johnston wants to make it clear that people should call 911 even if it’s not a life or death emergency. She said that if you see someone suspicious in your neighbor’s back yard, call 911 and report it. She cited a recent example of a neighbor calling 911 to report two suspicious people at her neighbor’s house, leading to the arrest of two prolific burglars.
“That would not have happened had the woman not been suspicious and called 911,” Johnston said.
She says residential burglary is one of the highest priority calls because it could be a crime in progress. “That is a big, big and very scary crime,” she said.
All 911 calls are prioritized, so Johnston said you shouldn’t worry that your call will take away resources from a more serious crime that may be happening. Officers may be sent to check out a suspicious person, but if they then get a call for an assault in progress, they will respond to that call first.
And don’t assume someone else has already called 911 when something major has happened. Having more 911 calls helps SPD know how serious it is, and you may have details others don’t.
The way you report a crime is important, she said. Be brief and to the point. For example, you might say “there are two suspicious men creeping out of my neighbor’s secluded back yard.”
If you have a complaint about police response to a 911 call, Johnston encourages you to call her and she can look up the details. For example she’ll be able to tell you that officers were on their way but then got called to something more serious, or they did stop the suspicious person a few blocks away but verified their story or credentials.
Johnston said she’s pleased about how the North End neighborhoods watch out for each other. She said the annual national Night Out against crime program on the first Tuesday of August (Aug. 2 this year) has far more participants in the north end of the city than anywhere else. She counted up the block parties that registered last year and said 787 blocks in the North Precinct had registered, compared to a combined 400 in the city’s other four precincts.
Johnston encouraged everyone to attend the North Precinct annual picnic, at 10049 College Way N., from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, July 9. Hundreds of people attend the picnic to meet police officers (and their department horses and dogs), watch a bomb robot demonstration, tour the precinct and listen to music.
North Precinct Crime Prevention Coordinator Terrie Johnston can be reached at 206-684-7711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.