Crime and punishment in Magnolia

Perception of crime and law enforcement in Magnolia don't quite mesh with reality, according to some frustrated neighborhood residents, Seattle police, King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng and a representative from the City Attorney's Office who spoke at a meeting of the Magnolia Community Club last week.

"A lot of people think there is no crime in Magnolia," said MCC president Vic Barry. Real-estate agents trying to make a sale in the neighborhood will certainly say that, he said. "We who live in Magnolia know that's not true."

Still, it could be worse. All categories of crime in Seattle have nose-dived in recent years - with the exception of car thefts, noted Maleng, a long-time Magnolia resident who spoke about a new Car Theft Initiative his office recently launched.

The CTI seeks to boost conviction and incarceration rates for adult and juvenile auto thieves through procedural improvements at the police and court-system levels. The effort has already paid off, according to Maleng, who said police cracked a major case just the day before.

It involved, he said, a man who claimed he'd picked up the Jaguar he was driving for his mother. "But when they caught up with this guy, they found out he'd committed six other car thefts."

Maleng also said that roughly 50 percent of car thieves are juveniles - some of whom appear to be local kids. "I don't think we know with great precision where they're coming from," he cautioned. But anecdotal evidence points to Magnolia youths in some cases, Maleng added.

Police have no doubts about that assertion. "There's kids we know are car thieves who live in Magnolia," said Sgt. Paul Gracy, a Magnolia resident on the Community Police Team. He spoke, for example, of one local teenager who stole a car in Magnolia, only to drop it off in the neighborhood and promptly steal a second vehicle.

Gracy added that part of the problem can be traced to "two or three kids who are on a rampage." Catching one or two juveniles like that can put a real dent in the problem, he added.

But car thefts weren't the only concern for some of the approximately 75 Magnolians who showed up at the meeting. So were car prowls, burglaries, drug dealing and a perceived lack of police response to crime in the neighborhood.

As with car thefts, a small number of people are responsible for most of the car prowls in Magnolia, said Tamere Soukup, a Magnolian with the city attorney's office, which handles misdemeanor crimes such as car prowls unless they involve juveniles. The King County prosecutor's office handles those, she noted.

Part of the problem with car prowls is people who leave valuable in their vehicles, and the city attorney's office is trying to educate the public about that, Soukup said.

Prevention efforts can also pay off in the fight against burglaries, according to Assistant Police Chief Nick Metz, a Magnolia resident who coaches soccer teams in the neighborhood. "I'm telling you, a lot of the burglaries we have up here are because people don't lock their doors or windows," he said.

Metz also said homes become attractive targets for burglars when the residents leave their back doors unlocked or open while they work in the front yard.

Sometimes burglars are caught, of course, but that proved to offer little satisfaction to one man who lives in Magnolia. His home was burglarized last fall, and the alleged burglar was caught in Snohomish County with the man's checkbooks.

Boxes of his belongings were also found in four stolen cars, said the man, who expressed great frustration that the court system kept reducing the suspect's sentences by half because he blamed drugs for his criminal ways.

Maleng, who was familiar with the case, said the judge in the case wasn't happy. "I'm not happy, either," he said, adding that the Car Theft Initiative is meant to address that kind of sentencing.

People at the meeting also complained about drug deals going down on the east side of the neighborhood and about one particular home in Magnolia that neighbors complain is a drug house.

Police at the meeting were familiar with both situations. Police have already talked to the alleged drug dealer on the east side of the neighborhood, police officer and neighborhood resident Stewart Coleman.

The alleged drug house is more problematic, according to Metz from the SPD. "It's not as easy as you think it is," he said of busted the place. A former officer with the narcotics squad, Metz said police often need an informant because such dealers are reluctant to sell drugs to people they don't know. But he said police are working on a number of different strategies.

Gracy from the Community Police Team said neighborhood residents have done exactly what the needed to do by reporting the activities around the house in question. "We are addressing it in ways I can't go into now," he added.

Another Magnolian at the meeting complained that he was treated badly when he called police around 5 in the morning last fall after hearing someone shouting outside his home that they were going to shoot somebody.

"And I really got no satisfaction at all," the man said, adding he called 9811 three times. "I was treated as if I was bothering 911."

Metz was sympathetic. "Unfortunately, there are times we do drop the ball," he said. But Metz also said the SPD prioritizes its response to 911 calls the same way medical personnel use triage to treat large number of patients.

Magnolia is part of the West Precinct, and sometimes cops assigned there are called to shootings and other violent incidents in other parts of the precinct such as Pioneer Square.

The need for more police in Seattle in general and Magnolia in particular also came up at the meeting. For Maleng, the answer is clear. "Seattle needs to grow up and properly fund the police department," he said.

Metz agreed that there aren't enough police patrolling in Magnolia. "But I will also tell you we don't have enough police officers in Seattle." He also said the neighborhood is fortunate to have police assigned to it that are very dedicated. "They know who the players are."

However, Metz said, adding more police officers to the force is only a Band-Aid approach that often shifts crime from one spot to another. "It doesn't really solve that much."

What does help, according to Metz, is neighborhood anti-crime efforts such as forming Block Watches. The police department cannot prevent crimes all by itself, he said.

For example, Metz hears from people in the neighborhood who witness someone suspicious in the area, don't call 911 and later discover a car has been prowled on the block. "Well, you are our eyes and ears."

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.[[In-content Ad]]