When news of South Precinct Captain Mike Washburn departure was announced, exasperation engulfed many South Seattle residents frustrated the precinct would be getting its eleventh captain in the span of eight years. The predicament was one many hoped not to face for at least a few years after Washburn officially took over as Precinct Captain in early April of 2015.
However, Washburn’s exit was a voluntarily one, unlike some of his predecessors. He is leaving to take over as Police Chief of the City of Indio, California. A position he says is a lifelong dream after working on the Seattle Police Department for nearly 30 years.
Washburn will be replaced by Eric Greening, who served under him for a spell as his South Precinct Watch Commander, and was Washburn’s preferred choice to succeed him.
The Emerald spoke with the outgoing South Precinct Captain to discuss his departure, community frustration with the turnover rate at the top of the South Precinct, gun violence, and the collaborative policing model he credits for the area’s lowered crime rate.
What was the highlight of your time at the South Precinct?
I’m just so proud of where the South Precinct has gone since I’ve been there. We’ve seen an incredible crime reduction, to be 25 percent down, and 10 percent to date is great. The thing is this is really community driven. The bottom line is that investment in our youth, and investment in our area, means there won’t be any crime issues. In terms of my proudest moment, I’m proud of all of it.
What does the next commander need to do in order to get to know the community? Do you feel there were inroads made in your time here between the Community and SPD?
We have definitely made inroads with the community. When I first became captain of the precinct, Eric Greening was a person I reached out to because he was the Operations Lieutenant for the Department. He was in charge of our precinct’s community policing. Even though he was only there for a blink of an eye, I saw a lot of potential in him being a captain himself one day. I couldn’t be happier that when I suggested that Eric would be a perfect fit for the South Precinct to Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, she took me up on my suggestion. He knows about the collaborative effort with used, in terms of law enforcement and community coming together. He’s a very competent commander, with a very similar style to mine.
How can people trust in a precinct that continuously changes leadership?
Well, Eric’s certainly younger than I am, and he’s not at that point in his career to be a chief somewhere. He’s a brand new captain, though he’s worked in some very high profile assignments. Again, when he first left the South Precinct we had a conversation, and I said, “You know you’re a captain, and I expect you to get back to this precinct.” Eric was one of the first people I called when I was offered this new position as Police Chief of Indio. I really advocated for him to get this position and he won’t be going anywhere soon.
I understand the perception that we haven’t been able to keep people in the South precinct. None of the previous moves that were made with former captions of the precinct were made because of the position I’m currently in with taking a higher position elsewhere. Being a captain of a precinct is a tough assignment, in terms of what is expected of them and their involvement within the community. Community policing is really a team effort, and I understand that there’s always a level of concern with the performance of the captain. If you’ve done the job right, that means you’ve built relationships within the community. When I first got here I reached out to key folks, and it’s the same thing that I’m sure Eric will do. Doing this job means that people you serve in this position become more than just your community members. It means you form bounds that last forever.
What do you attribute the 25% reduction in crime in the South Precinct to?
It’s the community. It’s the focus on equitable development, and an energetic Chamber of Commerce and Rainier Beach Merchants. There is so much energy and momentum that this community has. It’s an exciting time, as we’re pushing more people to become involved in the community. What is still being worked at, and I think successfully, is providing an opportunity for people within the community to have higher paying jobs right here where they live and grew up.
What is the department doing to get ahead of gunfire in the area?
We’re going the right way. A leadership principle of mine is that if things don’t go wrong when I’m gone, meaning they operate as they would as if I was there, then I have done my job as a leader. When I first came onboard as the precinct captain, I changed some key leadership positions within it. I handpicked my second in command for instance. My leadership style is very much like [McDonald’s fonder] Ray Kroc who said, Give me 1 percent of 100 people’s effort over 100 percent of 1 person’s effort. In terms of how we’ve dealt with shots fired in the area, I wanted the officers under me to be more entrepreneurial in their approach. I like fingerprints on a project. I want people to have ownership over something, and to be able to say once they’ve been given a goal that “this is mine to create.”Empowering your subordinates is key, and that’s what we’ve done with attempting to reduce gun violence. This new captain is really in tune with reducing shots fired. We’ve pushed things, so we know what works in that area.
Parting words for South End residents?
I love the South Precinct. I started there as a student officer. I’ve held every position there, and I jumped at the chance when Police Chief O’Toole gave me the assignment of Captain. I’ve gotten to meet with my old friends, community leaders, along with new folks. From working at different precincts, I really saw the difference in the energy levels and sophistication of the folks in this community versus some others. It’s been a very quick 29 years at SPD, and the South Precinct has been my favorite of all. When I was working homicide investigations, I really didn’t realize how much I missed working in the community until I came back here.