Seward Park Neighbors Join Forces to Fight Crime

Ari Hoffman examines shattered window after prowlers tried to break into his home.

Ari Hoffman examines shattered window after prowlers tried to break into his home.

 By TMR Correspondent: Jessica Hoffman

Participation, not isolation! This is the lesson we have learned from the recent spate of home invasions and car burglaries in the Seward Park neighborhood.

When our window was smashed in, we heard the glass shatter. “Ari, I think someone’s trying to break in to our house,” I said to my husband. It was only 8:30 PM and our lights were on, so the police called this attempted break-in “unusual.” I updated my Facebook status warning everyone to set their alarms and be vigilant. Burglars who take unnecessary risks are extra dangerous.

“Ari, I think someone’s trying to break into our house.”

Three nights later they started their evening breaking into a car parked in front of my sister’s house and stealing a golf club. They left behind a trail of video evidence that helps us follow much of their route. First, my parents’ backyard, where the video footage shows them spending five minutes trying to open sliding doors, noticing their own faces on the security monitor inside the house, and continuing to try and break in. One of the burglars is holding the stolen golf club. Video footage shows four young men—two were the ones from my parents’ backyard—walking down a private street that has a sign warning of video surveillance. They don’t seem to care about being caught. They break into a house and are inside for ten minutes. The homeowner woke up in her bed to find two young men in her bedroom, rifling through her bedside table. She reacted, confused, and then ran off. With her children sleeping down the hall, she was horrified.

Over the next day or two, there would be more. Another window shattered and the burglars running off when they realized there was someone home. Another home’s basement raided while they were sleeping. Meanwhile, the footage from my parents’ security system was shared on social media.

Click on Image above to see Q13 News report on Seward Park break-ins.

Click on Image above to see Q13 News report on Seward Park break-ins.

In the end it was my sister who saw them, walking down the street in broad daylight carrying flashlights. They had on the same clothing they were wearing on the video footage. She called my father, who hopped in his car and drove down to follow them while simultaneously calling the police. He saw them board a bus on Rainier Avenue, and flagged down a local patrol car to direct the police in the right direction. When the bus stopped in front of Starbucks in Columbia City, the police arrested the suspects. Larry Russak and Francine Birk, crime stoppers and local heroes!

Click image for KOMO News 4 report.

Click image for KOMO News 4 report.

Let’s be clear: they confessed to everything and turned in the names of the other two criminals. However, Facebook chatter has turned to racial issues. Despite the criminals being easy to identify from the footage, despite their full confession, and despite the fact that the police recovered much of the stolen goods, a small but insistent group of Facebook trolls are insistent that the police arrested these young men for being African-American. Again, let’s be clear; being terrorized by burglars while you are sleeping should not be the norm. Using racial tension to bully homeowners into keeping their mouths shut is counter-productive. “So you got broken into by some black kids…suck it up, you spoiled privileged Seward Park people” is divisive and just plain ridiculous. Everyone in this neighborhood is affected equally by crime.

Everyone in this neighborhood is affected equally by crime.

Often referred to as “the ‘hood” by locals, Seward Park sits on a lovely vista with a view of Lake Washington, Mount Rainier, and the Rainier Valley. Lit up at night, Rainier Valley sparkles. During the day, there is something magical about watching the low-hanging rain clouds over Beacon Hill. But we often think of Rainier Valley as less safe.

Ari Hoffman telling new reporters about the rash of break-ins.

Ari Hoffman telling new reporters about the rash of break-ins.

Down in the Valley, gentrification is under way, from the trendy bustling Columbia City to the small business friendliness of Hillman City. Yet even in those neighborhoods, restaurants have found their windows riddled with bullet holes when they go to open up in the morning. Nail salons are held up at gun point. These incidents have always taken place, but now there are business owners and residents who can make a difference. Non-complacent members of the community who care enough to call the police, who care enough to get involved themselves, and who care enough to effect change.

According to Wikipedia, “Gentrification is any facet of urban renewal that inevitably leads to displacement of the occupying demographic.” Small businesses and property development often lead to the local population no longer being able to afford housing in the neighborhood, and they are forced to move. Yet here in South Seattle, community members are working hard to make the local population an active participant in keeping the neighborhood safe, affordable and friendly.

The Hillman City Collaboratory, for example, describes itself as a “social changer incubator.” Their mission: “to create an instrument of transformation that provides space and programs specifically designed to create community and equip change-makers.” In probably the most Seattle-esque description ever, they are, “a neighborhood hub where community thrives, a breeding ground where collaborations are born and relationships form, a compost bucket where positive social movements blossom.”

Hillman City  Collaboratory in action. Photo Credit: The Collaboratory

Hillman City Collaboratory in action. Photo Credit: The Collaboratory

As someone who has been involved in Jewish outreach, I can attest to the fact that institutions don’t solve problems, relationships do. As a Jewish community, we are international neighbors helping neighbors. But as a Seattle community, we can be just as participatory. It is as simple as joining a Facebook group for the neighborhood, as easy as frequenting businesses in Hillman City and introducing yourself to the person next to you at the register, and as beneficial as joining a local business association. But participating, communicating, and staying active in the life of the neighborhood can only have positive results.

And while the felons turned out not to even be from this area, it was the communication between members of this community that cracked the case.

Jessica HoffmanTMR Correspondent Jessica Hoffman is a writer, mom, CrossFitter, and teacher at Derech Emunah. Jessica has written for Kveller, LadyMama, Jewneric, JOFA Journal, NW Beauty, and more. She and her husband Ari have 3 children, operate Seattle NCSY, and are active members of the Seward Park community.