Ty Swenson
Southwest Precinct Captain Joe Kessler (right) spoke with the West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network on March 26.

Captain Kessler hopes to finish out career at Southwest Precinct

Captain discusses plans for the future and current public safety concerns with Block Watch Captains' Network

The New Year brought a new Seattle Police Southwest Precinct Commander to West Seattle ... sort of.

To be accurate, Captain Joe Kessler’s assignment to head the precinct was a return to an old job he held from 2008 to 2010, and one he said he hopes to hold until retirement at the West Seattle Block Watch Captains’ meeting on March 26.

It was just before Christmas when SPD Chief John Diaz asked the Captain if he’d be willing to return to West Seattle after being sent downtown in 2010 to head the West Precinct.

“I have to admit, I was really hesitant,” Kessler joked, “It took me about 30 seconds to say, ‘Yes, that’s a good idea.’”

Kessler said he turned down four other positions in favor of returning, and that “My hope is that this is where I’m going to be for the duration of my career.”

He told the room of block watch captains the decision was multi-faceted, based on the number of close friends he has in West Seattle, White Center and Burien, the good work of officers and detectives at the Southwest Precinct, and the vibrant block watch community West Seattle is known for throughout the city.

According to Kessler’s SPD biography, he has been with the department since 1981. Throughout that time he has worked as an officer at all precincts, eventually working his way through the ranks as a sergeant in 1989, a lieutenant in 1992, and captain in 2000. He’s worked supervisory roles in the Vice and Narcotics Division, Deployment Unit, Traffic Section and Metropolitan Section.

During his last tenure as commander of the West Precinct, Kessler also acted as the ACT (Anti-Crime) Team supervisor and Community Police Team supervisor as part of SPD’s commitment to working more closely with the diverse neighborhoods of Seattle.

“I’m looking forward to working with you guys over the next few years and just getting back here to the precinct … what I call back in God’s country,” Kessler said of his return.

Before opening up the meeting to questions, Kessler also encouraged West Seattle residents to contact him and Southwest Precinct Operations Lt. Pierre Davis directly with concerns. Captain Kessler can be reached at joseph.kessler(at)seattle.gov and Lt. Davis can be reached at pierre.davis(at)seattle.gov. They can also be reached through Kessler’s assistant Sue at 206-684-5483.

Kessler encouraged citizens, if they are so inclined, to CC Seattle’s mayor, city council and chief of police but asked that concerns be brought to the precinct directly so they can start working on a resolution more quickly.

The importance of neighbors watching out for each other
“The block watch programs are huge,” Kessler told the group, “I think what you guys are doing is really critical and vital, really, to the safety of the community and working relationships with the police department.”

He encouraged West Seattleites to continue to call 911 whenever a crime, or potential crime, is in process.

Focus on property crime
When asked if there is any particular area of crime or public safety Kessler plans to zero in on, he replied, “If I have one main focus that I think we can have the biggest impact on it is in property crimes, particularly burglaries. That is my biggest focus.”

He said the work (“second to none”) of Southwest Precinct officers and detectives, in conjunction with steady information coming in from residents, has resulted in several arrests of prolific burglars over the past year and that he hopes to continue that trend, with the goal of ultimately driving down property crime numbers (including burglaries, car prowls and auto thefts) even further.

Although Kessler said West Seattle has relatively low violent crime rates, any time those incidents occur the focus will always shift to that higher priority where lives are at stake.

Problems at 15th and Holden
In what has become an effective trend at West Seattle Block Watch Captain and Crime Prevention meetings over the past few years, several residents living near the intersection of 15th Ave. S.W. and S.W. Holden St. attended the meeting to express concern over a Section 8 housing unit they said is overrun with drug dealing, shootings and robberies. Attending the meetings where SPD staff are always in attendance (and local media to report on what was said), has proven a strong strategy to convey specific concerns and get the ball rolling towards a resolution.

On this particular night, Capt. Kessler and Lt. Davis already had information to share with the concerned group who were asking what they can do to clean up the neighborhood.

As one woman put it, “We’ve dealt with it long enough; we don’t want more stuff or worse. Gunshots, what’s it going to take? We do not feel safe walking down that block.”

Another resident chimed in, “The way we look at: You put enough presence there, you arrest those guys, they go away, great. We get some more scumbags that come in and then we do the same thing over and over and over again. That’s only part of the problem, the problem is the person who owns the place, that’s the true problem.”

Davis said they have already increased patrols in the area and that “We know a lot of bad actors that are up there and right about now our City Liaison Attorney (Melissa Chin) is on the ball with that as well. We have gotten in contact with the owner … and I think we are going in a very positive direction with that and so I am looking at … resolution on this in the near future.”

The City Attorney’s Office is able to put pressure on property owners to more closely vet who they allow to live in their buildings, or risk being tagged a chronic nuisance property that can lead to heavy fines and more.

“We are trying to put the nail in the coffin, so to speak,” so that more troublemakers don’t move in as old ones move on, Davis added.

In the meantime (and this goes for anyone experiencing a trouble residence in their neighborhood), Davis encouraged residents to diligently call 911 if a crime is believed to be occurring. Those calls help the department decide where to send officers for patrols. For more general concerns, he recommended contacting West Seattle’s Community Police Team officers.

Victim Support Team looking for volunteers
Sarah Sorenson, volunteer supervisor for SPD’s Victim Support Team charged with helping victims of domestic assault through an army of noble volunteers, also stopped by the Block Watch Captains’ meeting to encourage people to sign up as volunteers and community ambassadors.

VST is described as “a unique partnership between community members and police to address and prevent domestic violence. The program is designed to address the gap in services to domestic violence victims that exists between the time patrol officers respond to a 9-1-1 call and take a report, to the time advocates, detectives and prosecutors make contact with the victim for follow up.”

Sorenson said volunteers go through a 50-hour training to become experts in helping others, and illustrated the dire need with a statistic:

75 percent of women killed by their batterers are killed after they attempt to leave or actually leave the situation.

Sorenson said a common refrain heard from those looking in on domestic violence is, “Why don’t they just leave?”

“Well, they may know for certain they will be killed,” she said.

For more information, visit the VST Support Team website or contact Sorenson at 206-615-0892 or sarah.sorenson(at)seattle.gov.

Captain Kessler also discussed the latest in public safety concerns at Nickelsville, the homeless encampment located 7116 W. Marginal Way S.W. More on that discussion will be posted in a separate story this week.

The West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meets on the fourth Tuesday of most months. More information can be found at their website, http://wsblockwatchnet.wordpress.com/.

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