DOC’s Community Response Unit Prevents Crime Before It Happens
June 24, 2015
(Will Mader, Digital Communications Specialist)
SEATTLE — There’s something off about the man with buzz cut hair.
Chad Winfrey senses it when he walks into Cascade Park. The guy immediately jumps up and grabs his bike after spotting Winfrey’s Department of Corrections uniform.
Winfrey and Seattle Police Officer Felix Reyes stall him long enough to get a name but he wasn’t doing anything illegal, so they cut him loose. He quickly rides off.
Piqued by his behavior, the officers hurry back to their patrol vehicle and punch his name – Paul Moore – into a computer database. Bingo. A warrant for his arrest pops up. Moore’s a wanted man.
“He went downhill,” Winfrey says, as Reyes puts the van in gear. “Let’s try another park.”
So begins another day for Winfrey, 35, a specialist with a DOC Community Response Unit, CRU, located in downtown Seattle. He’s one of 30 CRU specialists located across the state tasked with tracking down wanted felons.
Winfrey, a seven–year DOC veteran, works in partnership with Seattle Police Department officers, patrolling the downtown area looking for the worst of the worst. The people they’re after usually have violated the conditions of their DOC supervision and pose a high risk of committing another crime.
In essence, it’s the officers’ job to prevent crime before it happens.
It’s a profession that requires a special skill set, says Leslie Mills, Winfrey’s supervisor.
“There’s an entire city living underneath the I-5 corridor in the downtown Seattle metro area,” Mills notes as an example. “You can actually go under the concrete with rubber boots on and find cities of people. We go in there looking for one bad guy in that entire area. Chad can be looking at 45 people – and see that one guy they’re looking for.”
Winfrey, who, at 5–foot–11 and 250 pounds, looks like a linebacker, is good at his job, Reyes says. “We call him our bear cat. Big as a bear and fast as a cat. People don’t get away when he runs after them.”
Last year, Winfrey and the SPD officers he works with made more than 300 arrests and pulled a pile of guns off the street.
“It feels good,” Winfrey says of their work. “I definitely think we’re preventing crime.”
Seattle’s downtown is a prime hunting ground. A lot of the people on DOC’s wanted list tend to congregate there.
Today, Winfrey and Reyes hope Moore will be one of them.
Reyes slowly drives their dark blue van, with its DOC and Seattle Police Department logos on the side, by parks and other areas they think Moore might have gone. They periodically ask people if they’ve seen a guy matching his description.
“Hey. Did a guy come through here on a bicycle?” Winfrey asks a road construction worker, “Just a sandwich guy,” the worker replies.
The van drives on.
“Moore’s going to be my white whale for the day,” Reyes muses as they cruise.
Almost every place they stop people approach to chat, asking the officers why they’re there and who they’re looking for. Winfrey and Reyes seem to know most of them.
“We’re always making contact with people,” Winfrey says. “We have that ongoing mental note of who’s doing what and how they’re doing.”
While driving through the Pioneer Square area, he calls over a man who has bad teeth and is wearing a baseball cap.
“I’m doing the clinic back here, and anything that is habit forming, they don’t give you,” the man tells Winfrey. “I’m also a recovered cocaine addict. I kicked that in 1988. I don’t want anything that I get hooked on or that makes me feel high because I don’t need that.”
“Because you’re high on life,” Winfrey says.
“Yes,” he says.
The van drives off. Winfrey notes the man is a sex inmate under DOC supervision. “He’s homeless and stays there,” he says. “That’s the best his appearance has looked in a long time.”
Winfrey pays a lot of attention to details, such as someone’s hygiene. If inmates are looking ragged, it could mean they’re using drugs and violating the terms of their supervision. “We want to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” he says. “We get a lot of DOC arrests out of that.”
‘A bike that won’t be stolen’
The officers make a pit stop at a fast food restaurant to pick up a quick lunch. Inside they notice a suspicious man with a tattoo.
The appearance of a DOC uniform can make wanted felons do strange things. Like quickly turn around. The officers call it “the DOC walk away.”
Winfrey and Reyes again hurry back to their van to search the computer. The database allows them to look up suspects based on unique characteristics, such as scars and tattoos. Within a few seconds they find a picture of the man in the restaurant and discover he’s got an outstanding warrant.
They run back into the restaurant and arrest him without trouble. He’s got a bicycle worth several thousand dollars and a bulging backpack. Winfrey dumps the bike and the contents of the backpack on the van’s floor. A bolt cutter, wire cutter and other tools for stripping bikes fall out, along with multiple cell phones and drug paraphernalia.
“He has a long, long history of thefts. Putting him in jail not only makes him own up to what he’s done,” Winfrey says, “but it’s also probably a bike that’s not going to be stolen tonight.”
The officers take the bike thief to the Seattle Police Department’s West Precinct office and drop him off for processing, then head back on the road.
It almost makes up for not catching the buzz cut felon earlier in the day. “This might be just as good,” Reyes says.