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Kirkland residents create Springbrook Neighborhood Watch group
After witnessing several crimes, members of the Springbrook Homeowners Association have bonded together to create a neighborhood watch program.
Residents say their neighborhood, located near Juanita High School, is subject to high school foot traffic and transients -- people at least one member believes are responsible for committing a number of felonies and misdemeanors in recent years.
“We are on the pathway to Juanita High School so we have a lot of high school traffic and walking, parents driving their kids to a footpath that goes up to the high school,” said Dick Schaertl, president of the Springbrook Homeowners Association and the neighborhood watch group. “They’ve been a problem in the past with graffiti, drug use, etc. But in the last several years we’ve had an increase in burglaries, most recently we’ve had a huge increase of mail theft. We’ve had drug deals that we’ve reported ongoing as witnesses.”
The group of 20-plus members met with Kirkland Police Department Chief Eric Olsen, Kirkland City Councilman Toby Nixon and Neighborhood Resource Officer Audra Weber in mid-December to address concerns and learn how to be a more effective in controlling the issues.
From 2008 to 2012, the Springbrook Homeowners Association has paid $21,000 in “security-related property repair costs,” which include costs from cleaning up graffiti to extending perimeter fences to make it harder for people to access their private outside common area.
More recently, someone stole a neighbor’s box of mail from their front porch, which included Christmas presents and cards, Schaertl said.
“Definitely, we have had thieves dropping stolen mail off in our neighborhood at multiple locations,” Schaertl said. “They’ve loitered in our area, gone through the mail and then thrown out what they don’t want.”
Schaertl also claims high schoolers have sawed down four new expensive “hybrid” trees along 102nd Lane Northeast that will need to be replanted this spring.
But Nixon said while members of the Springbrook Neighborhood Watch group believe crime is increasing in their area, he hasn’t seen any statistics that show an increase disproportionate to Kirkland’s population changes.
“Regarding the concerns of this specific neighborhood, part of the challenge here and in other neighborhoods is that residents are concerned about some things, such as people loitering on the sidewalks and cutting through their neighborhood while on their way to and from other places,” Nixon said in an email, “which makes some people uncomfortable, but is not illegal; there’s not much the police can do about this.”
Nixon added that the Springbrook neighborhood also has a problem with thefts from cars, porches and vandalism from time to time but “these are very difficult to deal with unless you catch people in the act, which is hard to do.”
The neighborhoods are bounded by Northeast 132nd Street to the north, Juanita High School to the east, Northeast 124th Street to the south and 100th Avenue Northeast to the west; and include Springbrook, Kirkland Springs, Hidden River and Kirkland Village neighborhoods.
A search on www.crimemapping.com shows that since July 31, 2013, there has been about 30 crimes in the area under the Springbrook Neighborhood Watch Group umbrella. Some of these crimes include vehicle break-ins, drug and alcohol violations, assault, theft, car thefts, fraud, DUIs, vandalism and burglary.
However, the data doesn’t reveal whether crime has increased throughout the years because www.crimemapping.com doesn’t allow users to search back farther than 180 days. More information on this can be found on the website’s FAQ page.
“I get calls daily about [vehicle prowls],” Weber said, referring to Kirkland’s crime. “It hits closer to home for them because it’s occurring close to their neighborhood.”
Not only does Schaertl believe crime has increased but he’s convinced police response time has been impacted.
“Our perception is, since the expansion of the city limits, at least in the last year or two, the response time and effectiveness of the current police has waned a little bit,” Schaertl said. “We’ve had a number of situations where we’ve called into 911 and requested for police follow up with the witness and they haven’t even responded. And that’s disconcerting because in the past they’ve been very quick and professional about that.”
He said before the annexation, response time was five minutes or less but now it’s generally around 10 minutes.
But Weber said the police force has expanded with the city expansion, adding three more officers for the three new districts with an increased traffic unit, more rovers on streets, and more supervisors per squad.
“Response time and officers have not, in Mr. Schaertl’s words, waned,” Weber said.
Yet, Schaertl cites one incident from September that police never responded to as an example of his dissatisfaction.
On Sept. 9, 2013, some neighbors called 911 to report a supposed drug deal that evening.
They witnessed two men get out of one car and walk to another with an open front passenger door. Peering through binoculars, a resident said she saw one man get out a plastic bag from the glove compartment and then “proceed to roll.”
“After a while, the occupants from both cars proceeded to walk up the path near the creek, smoking,” the neighbor wrote in an email to Schaertl in an explanation. “At this time, I rang the police and told them what was going on, gave registration numbers on both cars [and] described what my husband and I had seen.”
The two also took several photos but police never came, Schaertl said.
“KPD continues to say our neighborhood watch area is still considered a low crime rate area, and we’re happy to hear that but the crime rate is still going up,” Schaertl said. “Our perception is we’re seeing the crime increase in our area and it’s unacceptable and, as taxpayers and voters, we want something done.”
Nixon said the City Council has to balance the cost of increased police staffing with the needs in the city, as well as the tax burden on families and businesses, which is why he believes creating a Neighborhood Watch group can be so beneficial.
“We encourage formation of neighborhood watch groups,” he said. “It’s good to know our neighbors and have an idea of what’s routine around us, so that when something out of the ordinary is taking place we can call police and possibly interrupt a burglary or other crime in progress.”
Schaertl said the meeting with the Springbrook Neighborhood Watch group, Nixon, Olsen and Weber was informative and they addressed what can be done for future crime.
Going forward, Schaertl hopes to expand the group to others in his community, as well as reach out to other Neighborhood Watch groups in Kirkland.
Three other groups in Kirkland are listed on www.usaonwatch.org, but provide no contact information, he said.
“We’re appealing to them to make contact so we can have a bigger, more unified presence in the city,” he said.
To join the Springbrook Neighborhood Watch group or contact Schaertl, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Kirkland Police Department is not actively involved with neighborhood watch groups but does provide resources for neighborhood safety. For more information, visit www.kirklandwa.gov/depart/PD/Crime_Prevention_Tips/Block_Watch.htm.