Fed up, Morgan Junction neighbors bring ‘flophouse’ concerns to West Seattle Crime Prevention Council
They've had enough.
A group of ten West Seattle residents (representing many more) living near the junction of S.W. Morgan St. and 37th Ave S.W. have reached a boiling point in dealing with a nuisance house in their neighborhood, and brought their concerns to the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting on Sept. 18.
The house, called a “flophouse” by the group, has been a constant source of tension and fear for residents as they described an amorphous group who brazenly steal from their backyards, prowl their cars, sift through their mail and, likely, use and deal drugs. Residents know if they leave a door unlocked, a gate open, or a garage door ajar and unattended, personal items are likely to disappear. The trouble tenants’ illegal jobs hold no regular hours, residents say, as thefts occur from day to night.
It’s been going on for five years and after hundreds of 911 calls and dead end conversations with the City, they arrived at the WSCPC meeting hungry for direction in putting an end to the neighborhood scourge.
“We just can’t seem to shut them down whatever we do,” one person said.
“It’s scary as hell; I can’t take my garbage out,” said another.
“Even when we see someone who is prowling a car at that time, we call 911 and say, ‘This guy was arrested two days … and now I’m watching him, right now, going through someone’s car,’ and then go into that house. We call 911 and no one shows up,” a third chimed in.
The group has put a bulging file together, from license plate numbers of cars that frequent the house to arrest records on those they have identified to tax and ownership records on the home. They have presented the information to the City Attorney’s Office in hopes the home could be determined a chronic nuisance (which could lead to eviction and the like), but have been told, time and time again, that the City is working on similar cases ten years old, so don’t hold out too much hope.
The advantage of bringing their concern to the WSCPC meeting was an audience that included the Southwest Precinct Operations Lt. Pierre Davis and Seattle City Attorney’s Office SW Precinct Liason Attorney Melissa Chin: people who can make things happen.
Chin and Davis listened intently to the group’s tale, given proper time to breathe during a meeting with a looser agenda than usual, and offered up suggestions and a promise to put the issue on their radar moving forward.
Davis said his department is aware of several people living at the trouble-generating home and, while many of them have been arrested several times, often times criminals committing property crime are back on the streets within days and back to their old tricks.
He promised to look closely at the issue with Community Police Team Officer Ken Mazzuca (responsible for that part of town).
“As a collective I know we can get to a positive place on this thing,” Davis said. “Keep it up, contact Officer Mazzuca (with further details on the house),” and a game plan will be formulated.
Part of the problem, according to the group, is that the owner is an elderly woman living in a nursing home. They believe her grandson has taken the home over and, due to her advanced age, she is either largely unaware of the issues or possibly afraid to do anything about it.
Chin said her office would take a look at the file compiled against the home and see if it qualifies as a chronic nuisance – giving power to the laws of eviction or condemnation of the home.
Another possibility is a civil suit filed by residents against the homeowner. WSCPC regular Dick Hurley said he and his neighbors took that approach with a similar home years back, and the threat of monetary loss forced the landlord into making changes.
Until something concrete happens, residents near Morgan and 37th will have to endure. While the loss of personal property is certainly a headache and no laughing matter, they worry desperation or bad timing could lead to something far worse.
“You can see the tension and the emotional turmoil because all of us can feel it escalating and we are waiting for that moment when something bad is going to happen,” one woman said. “Right now it is a nuisance, and it’s not funny.”
Crime report from Lt. Davis
West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meetings always kick off with a crime report from Southwest Precinct second-in-command Lt. Davis.
Davis called the West Seattle summer “mild” in terms of crime (our usual mix of car prowls, vehicle thefts, burglaries and the rarer robbery), thanks in part to preventative patrols in known crime hot spots throughout the warmer months.
He said there has been a lingering problem with people not calling 911 when they see suspicious behavior in the neighborhood. Davis encouraged people to call for the sake of data: the more calls logged for a certain area give police an idea of where they need to increase presence.
Community Police Team officers are back to full time service in that capacity after spending most of the summer focusing on 911 response calls, he said.
As we come out of summer, Davis expects an uptick in home burglaries as the capers know kids are back in school and parents are back to work after taking summertime breaks. Keep diligent in locking your house up, he said.
Good news for Lincoln Park users, Davis said a man who has made a habit of breaking into cars parked in the parking lots all summer has been arrested, and police are on the search for his accomplice.
The West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meets on the third Tuesday of each month. Their next meeting is Oct. 16 at the Southwest Precinct, 2300 S.W. Webster St., from 7 p.m. till 8:30 p.m.