Ty Swenson
Mark Solomon, interim Crime Prevention Coordinator for the Southwest Precint introduced himself to members of the West Seattle Blockwatch Captains' Network as the precinct community room on March 22.

West Seattle Blockwatch Captains learn how to use landscaping to deter crime; meet interim crime prevention coordinator

The Southwest Precinct community room was packed full on March 22 as over 30 blockwatch captains gathered to learn about CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) and hear from West Seattle’s interim crime prevention coordinator Mark Solomon.

Crime Prevention Team Officer Jonathan Kiehn from the Southwest Precinct gave a presentation on applying CPTED principles to residential house design and landscaping choices, all steps that can make a house a less attractive target to burglars.

“You are kind of playing with their (criminals) mind, and that’s what we want to do,” Officer Kiehn said of CPTED, which employs design choices that affect criminals’ behavior and may reduce crime.

The lesson was broken down into four interrelated techniques people can employ to help safeguard their home, including natural surveillance, territorial reinforcement, natural access control and maintenance.

Natural Surveillance

Officer Kiehn said natural surveillance boils down to making criminals feel like they are being watched, whether they actually are or not.

“People are less likely to commit a crime if they are being watched,” he said.

Tactics include avoiding large shadowy areas on your property, trimming hedges to no higher than three feet, using slotted or ornamental fencing rather than solid wood fences, opening upper window blinds and using semi-transparent curtains in the windows.

“It is constantly creating the possibility of being seen,” Officer Kiehn said. He added that an important component of CPTED working is having a block where people watch out for each other’s property. For example, with a slotted or ornamental fence a neighbor could see someone in your backyard and call police based on that suspicious activity.

“It makes criminal behavior easy to identify,” he said.

A West Seattle resident shared her story of being burglarized three times in the course of a year and finally calling Officer Kiehn for advice.

“I couldn’t figure out why my house was being burglarized and not my neighbors’,” she said.

He came to her house and recommended several CPTED steps she could take to improve her house and she said she has not had any issues since improving her landscape and getting rid of solid blinds.

Officer Kiehn said if you install security cameras that are visible to make sure they are out of reach.

Territorial Reinforcement

Defined by Officer Kiehn as “social control through increased definition of space,” territorial reinforcement involves strategies to mark areas where people are allowed to be on your property versus private areas.

Officer Kiehn said the most effective territorial changes are adding borders to your lawn such as flower beds or low-lying bushes. Borders create a clearer definition of a private lawn versus a public sidewalk and if someone sees a person over that border the alarms go off in their head, he said.

Natural Access Control

While territorial reinforcement and natural surveillance play off societal norms and are more psychological, Officer Kiehn said natural access control is more about “physically guiding people through a space.”

Access control includes doors, shrubs, gates and fences that deny admission to a certain area.

He said one of the most effective tactics is forming a clear path to the front door where visitors don’t have a choice but to take that path to the house. If a neighbor sees someone outside of that clear path, they know to keep a keen eye on that person’s activity.

Maintenance

Officer Kiehn said keeping your house in good repair, cleaned up with no litter at all times “makes a big difference in the way people perceive your neighborhood” and could lead criminals to believe they can’t get away with much on this particular block.

He recommended keeping shrubs trimmed to 2.-3 feet high and trimming tree branches below seven feet to increase visibility of your property.

Overview of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design

In the overview of his presentation, Officer Kiehn said taking into account open lines of sight is the most important consideration in landscaping.

“Making your whole yard visible is more beneficial than hiding it,” he said.

If you shut your house off from the rest of the neighborhood with high solid fences and big trees (considered part of the American Dream for some), Officer Kiehn said, “You’ve just lost a huge resource … by blocking yourself off from the world. You lose your neighbors as a resource.”

Officer Kiehn also said lighting can be used to alter criminal behavior, using constant light on areas people are allowed to be (such as your walkway and front porch) in conjunction with motion sensor lights in areas where people shouldn’t be. He added that yellow lights are not nearly as effective as white light in illuminating your property for watchful neighbors to see.

Other crime prevention tactics mentioned by blockwatch network members included rock groundcover on the sides of the house to create noise if someone is snooping around, planting thorny plants to deter people from getting too close (called “hostile vegetation” by Officer Kiehn), putting up alarm system and no solicitor signs and putting a dog bowl and a big bone on the front porch (even if you don’t have a dog).

Mark Solomon, interim crime prevention coordinator (CPC)

With longtime West Seattle CPC Benjamin Kinlow retiring last week, Seattle native and 20-year CPC Mark Solomon introduced himself to the blockwatch network and said, for the time being, he will be available for blockwatch training and organization.

Solomon said there is no official timeline for a decision to be made on West Seattle’s CPC coverage in the future (since the staff shrunk), but said he decided to volunteer himself to take on the role for the time being with a good possibility he will become the permanent CPC for the area.

Solomon is the CPC for two other precincts in Seattle, but when asked if he feels stretched too thin by the work load and geographical distance, he said, “With a computer and a phone I can pretty much work from anywhere.”

Southwest Precinct Operation Lt. Pierre Davis, when asked if he had any pull in the decision on Solomon coming to the Southwest Precinct permanently, said “I’m working on it.”

Mark Solomon can be reached at 206-386-9766 or mark.solomon@seattle.gov.

More from the meeting

Blockwatch Network co-chair Deb Greer said the WSBCN has been invited to become a full member of the Southwest District Council which they accepted.

In the wake of Japan’s devastating earthquake, Greer said it is a good time to remind people of the emergency preparedness element of blockwatches and said their will be a SNAP (Seattle Neighborhoods Actively Prepare) training session for blockwatch captains in April, although the final date has not been set.

The next WSBCN meeting (April 26) will include a guest speaker from the City of Seattle’s web team who will illustrate the many tools citizens can use on the City’s website.

More important dates were relayed by co-chair Karen Berge including a racial profiling class on April 16, a one day police academy on April 9 and an emergency preparedness meeting with Red Cross officials on April 17 at the West Seattle Senior Center.

Edit: The emergency preparedness meeting mentioned in the paragraph above will be held on April 7, not April 17. For more information on this event please visit http://westseattlebeprepared.wordpress.com or http://westseattle.bepreparedseattle.info.

For more information on those events, visit the West Seattle Blockwatch Captains’ Network at http://wsblockwatchnet.wordpress.com/.

There was a wide range of experience represented at the meeting, with blockwatch captains who had been leading the watch on their block for 16 years to those who had held the position for only a week.

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