Auto theft and car prowls in Seattle dropped significantly in November as police put a sharper emphasis on those crimes, according to statistics presented to the City Council Wednesday.
But more steps need to be taken to address citizen concerns about lower-level crimes and to emphasize to officers the importance of containing them, police officials were prepared to tell the council.
The department’s plan was unveiled during a meeting of the council’s public-safety committee.
As part of the effort, Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chairman of the committee, is working on legislation to require pawn shops and used-goods dealers to take digital photos of jewelry and post them to a data base used by law enforcement and businesses to track goods. Participation in the data base is now voluntary.
The police plan, containing short-and long-term steps, grew out of a series of incidents, including one documented in October by Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat, which called into question the willingness of police to investigate lower-level crimes such as cell-phone thefts.
Police immediately focused on the issue during bi-weekly meetings of SeaStat, the new department program in which officials analyze crime data and community reports to quickly identify crime hotspots, Mike Wagers, SPD’s chief operating officer, said before the council meeting.
As a result, auto theft dropped 34 percent in November compared to October, from 576 cases to 382, according to police. Thefts of auto accessories and auto parts, along with car prowls, decreased by 25 percent in November compared to October, from 1,250 offenses to 936, according to the briefing materials.
Some of the decline can be attributed to arrests of “prolific offenders,” Wagers said.
Such crimes are important to people, Wagers said. Not addressing them can breed more disorder and fear, he said, noting the focus for too long has been on higher-level crimes.
Tracking the offenders can sometimes keep them from committing a more egregious crime, such as a robbery, in the future, he said.
To underline that message, the department is drafting a directive to remind officers of the significance of minor crimes, while reviewing whether priority codes for dispatching officers should be amended, according to the briefing materials.
Dispatchers could be given a checklist of questions to help them gauge the odds of solving a crime, although that will take time to develop, Wagers said.
The department also is looking at ways to better manage calls taken on the non-emergency line, such as using officers on light duty or civilians to handle them to avoid long waits on hold.
Another option is working with the city’s technology department to develop software that would alert people when to expect a return call, rather than wait on hold, according to the briefing materials.
Online reporting also could be revised and improved.
Already, Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole has created a department position to help officers track down stolen phones and other GPS-enabled devices.
Officers also are being given clearer directions clarifying what constitutes reasonable suspicion, probable cause and the need to get a search warrant when dealing with suspects involved in the theft of electronic devices, Wagers said.
More can be done to use technology and social media to solve crimes, Wagers said, including making it easier for citizens to provide data and photos to police that can be provided to officers in the field.
In October, a woman frustrated by a lack of response from Seattle police after she provided a photo of a groping suspect, posted the picture on Twitter, triggering media attention, police action and an arrest.