Ongoing concerns about property crime and car thefts on the Key Peninsula came to a head in January when an alleged car thief was shot by a 70-year old SUV owner in Wauna. The incident, still under investigation, prompted two relative newcomers and a decades-old grassroots organization to take action. (See “KP Property Crime Update,” KP News, Jan. 2022.)
Matt Graham, who spent his teens on the Key Peninsula and recently moved to Gig Harbor, is a CPA and lawyer working as a tax consultant for large businesses. His father is the owner of the stolen SUV. Shortly after the incident — the alleged car thief has since been arrested on unrelated charges — Graham and his mother formed a Facebook group, “KP Advocates for Law and Order.” They held a virtual meeting to get feedback from the community, share goals and ask for help. Although attendance was sparse, they posted a recording and Graham said hundreds have viewed it and offered feedback.
Graham said he thinks the decision to limit jail bookings during the pandemic is one of the main causes of the current increase in crime. Bookings were limited to Class A felonies, such as murder, high level assault, rape, DUIs and domestic violence.
Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Communications Director Darren Moss told KP News that the county jail had planned to include bookings for burglary and auto theft when the omicron surge hit but maintained the earlier policy instead. “We had up to 130 staff out due to illness or quarantine,” he said.
The Pierce County Jail can hold 1,700 inmates and employs about 300 staff. There were approximately 970 people in detention there at press time near the end of February.
Graham met with Chief of Corrections Patti Jackson Feb. 17.
“One of the major revelations that came up on our call is that police officers in Pierce County actually do have the ability to bring persistent and prolific offenders to jail … (h)owever, they must get permission to bring them in, which appears to be a complicated process,” Graham later reported in a Facebook post about the meetings. “They are working to remedy this communication gap and make clear to deputies that prolific offenders can and should be brought to the jail.”
Jackson also encouraged the community to use the Crime Stoppers P3 Tips mobile app to report any information about local crime anonymously to the Sheriff’s Department.
“Now knowing that PCSD can put these serial offenders in jail, the next step is to help them do it,” Graham wrote.
Safe Streets, a Tacoma-based nonprofit, held a community forum Feb. 17 via Zoom with Pierce County Prosecutor Mary Robnett, Pierce County Councilman and Chair Derek Young, state Sen. Emily Randall, KP Fire Department Public Information Officer Anne Nesbit and Lakebay Church Pastor Dan Whitmarsh. About 30 people attended.
Young said that although the county has added positions to the Sheriff’s Department, they still have fewer staff than they did before the Great Recession of 2008. Of the positions that are funded, only 75% are filled. Those vacancies, he and Robnett said, are due to expected retirement, competition with other departments, and staff leaving the profession altogether.
Randall discussed recent police reform legislation and the planned changes. “It is challenging work to balance individual freedom and create a legal framework that allows our law enforcement to keep us safe,” she said.
Robnett said legislation needed to be updated permitting officers to temporarily detain people where they enter a chaotic situation when they are not able to discern perpetrator from victim.
Advice for preventing theft came from Nesbit and Safe Streets Neighborhood Organizing Program Manager RoxAnne Simon: ensure that property is well-lit, trim bushes, consider motion detectors and organize a neighborhood watch system.
Young said law enforcement is mostly a response to crime. “More than half of the people in the jail are suffering from a behavioral health disorder. Sixty percent suffered from some sort of traumatic childhood experience. Most of them live in poverty,” he said. “The more we can do early on in someone’s life to help redirect the better. Help support us in our efforts to reduce homelessness and deal with behavioral health issues.”
Tips on local crimes can be made anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or online at www.p3tips.com/tipform.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS