Activist calls South Precinct’s changing leaders ‘poor policing’
South Seattle community activist says a revolving door of leadership in the police department’s South Precinct has resulted in “poor policing.” With a new acting captain, the precinct is on its seventh leader since 2006.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Longtime South Seattle community activist Pat Murakami concedes she was frustrated when she emailed subscribers of her crime-advisory list last week, alerting them that Seattle police Capt. John Hayes was leaving the department’s South Precinct.
Hayes has been in the position for six months after replacing Assistant Chief Carmen Best, who ran the precinct for just over a month before she was promoted to another job.
With Lt. Steve Strand now stepping in as acting captain, the precinct is on its seventh leader since 2006.
Murakami said the revolving door of precinct leadership results in “poor policing,” especially in light of the recent shootings that have echoed in South Seattle neighborhoods.
“The officers in the precinct have to adjust to a new leader each time a new one comes in,” she said. “Each captain has their own leadership style. They’ll deploy their officers in different ways.”
Murakami thinks precinct captains should be required to stay in their respective precincts for three to four years. She plans to share her frustrations with Mayor Ed Murray when she and other community members meet with him next week.
In a statement released Wednesday, Murray said he agrees that the South Precinct needs more resources to “address the recent violence.”
“We must do better. But beyond just dedicating sufficient resources, we must also use them in the most effective manner possible — which means our resources can’t just be limited to police response,” the statement read.
Murray said resources dedicated to the precinct “must also include strategies of prevention and intervention, and my office is currently exploring what additional programs we can put in place to effectively address this very serious issue in South Seattle and keep those communities safe.”
The South Precinct, which includes Beacon Hill, Mount Baker, Columbia City, Georgetown, Othello Park, Rainier Beach, Seward Park and several other neighborhoods, regularly has the city’s highest crime rates. And the highest turnover in precinct leaders.
Of the 23 non-officer-involved homicides in 2013, eight occurred in the South Precinct. By contrast, three people were slain in the Southwest Precinct and four homicides occurred in each of the three remaining precincts, according to the Seattle Police Department.
In recent weeks, police have investigated several shootings in the area patrolled by South Precinct officers.
On May 15, occupants of a black sedan fired more than 50 rounds into a retail building on Rainier Avenue South.
A day earlier, two groups of people opened fire on each other near Othello Playground in Rainier Valley, but there were no reported injuries, police said.
On May 12, as many as 60 gunshots were fired from a high-powered rifle and two handguns near an apartment complex in the 9200 block of 56th Avenue South. Police were unable to find any damage.
Last Thursday, a man left a shopping cart with a body inside on South Austin Street. A suspect was arrested last weekend in connection with the homicide.
Before a community meeting Tuesday night, Strand, the new acting precinct captain, defended the change in leadership. He said police “have officers in the South Precinct who have been there a number of years, and they stick around. The officers you’ll see in the neighborhoods are the same. They’ve been there for 25 years or more.”
“The captains do come and go, and that is not uncommon throughout the Police Department,” he continued. “But the officers responding to calls and know the neighbors stay in the same place. They’re the ones that really make a difference in the community.”
During an interview Tuesday, Hayes, a 32-year veteran of the department, said people shouldn’t fault the precinct captains if job opportunities open up.
“I thought I would have been here more long term,” Hayes said, adding that he took a job reassignment after a personal request from Interim Chief Harry Bailey.
“I’ve worked with Harry a lot of years, I trust him. If he feels he needs something, I’m happy to help,” he said.
Bailey is out of town this week and unavailable to comment.
In announcing the reassignment of Hayes and others Friday, Bailey issued a statement that said, “Change is normal in any organization. I have placed my commanders in these new assignments because this is the best fit for my department and the community which we serve.”
On Saturday, a source with knowledge of police operations said the changes stemmed from a sense that there was a lack of urgency over a recent spate of shootings in South Seattle.
Hayes is moving to the Compliance and Professional Standards Bureau to take command of community outreach. He believes he was moved because he has a good relationship with the Department of Justice monitoring team assigned to put police reforms in place.
Bailey also moved Assistant Chief Nick Metz to run the patrol division, replacing Assistant Chief Joe Kessler. Kessler moves to the Homeland Security Bureau, and Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh, who’d headed that bureau, shifts to the Field Support Bureau.
Seattle Times staff reporter Paige Cornwell contributed to this story, which includes information from Times archives.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.