Key Pen’s ‘low’ crime rates: Statistics don’t tell the whole story


Irene Torres, KP News

Crime statistics for the Key Peninsula on file with the Pierce County Sheriff’s department are low compared to the rest of the county. One factor that seems to keep the statistics low is the work of neighborhoods collaborating with agencies like Safe Streets, Neighborhood Watch, the Sheriff’s, and Citizens Against Crime (CAC).

To help neighborhoods take the necessary steps to protect their properties, the Pierce County Sheriff’s office has established a program called Neighborhood Action Teams (NAT). No less than 11 KP teams have been formed, including Key Peninsula, Bond Beach, Crescent Beach, Horseshoe Lake, Key Peninsula Lutheran Church, Lake Holiday, Palmer Lake, Lake of the Woods, Morningside, Sunshine Beach, and Taylor Bay.

At the Palmer Lake community, crime deterrent efforts are paying off, according to local residents. Barbara Waller told the KP News, “We work with various groups. We have no formal crime watch but combine the best of all forums, and it seems to work for us. Rick Lingle of Palmer Lake is the new CAC president and is also a member of the Key Pen Crime Task Force. He is a member of the Palmer Lake Improvement Club and passes all information to this group. Rich Holden and Emily Watson, Community Service Officer with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, are active in our community.”

Watson said, “The NAT is about getting to know your neighbors and interacting with the residents of the neighborhood, causing suspicious people and activities to stand out. The residents are then able to report the suspicious activities and people to law enforcement and ultimately reduce crime. This program allows neighborhoods to report their physical boundaries to the Sheriff’s Department, generating monthly reports showing only crimes within the neighborhood instead of the half-mile radius from an address within the neighborhood. The NAT is qualified to purchase signs for posting, alerting the public of their organized group.”

Waller said they pass information on all activities ranging from speeders’ license plate numbers, to houses that have a lot of traffic. “We also provide periodic lists of suspect houses to our community liaisons with the Sheriff’s Department (Bryan Ward and Dave Plummer), who patrol at the expense of the Palmer Lake Beach Club on their off hours,” she said. “As a result of this we have closed one major meth house and removed at least two drug house inhabitants from our area. We have also installed security lights in areas where there seems to be the most activity. We did this as a result of input from the community liaisons.”

Patricia Latshaw, president of the CAC/Citizens’ Patrol said CAC members are the “eyes and ears” for the sheriff’s department. “If we hear or know of a problem area, we alert the (Peninsula) detachment. This summer there was a lot of construction site burglary and those contractors either took all their equipment home each night or had someone stay on site to watch,” she said. “A lot of theft on the Key is related to meth use. However, this is decreasing as new construction comes in and more people are made aware of what to watch for.”

Another factor in the apparent low crime rate on the KP seems to be underreporting. For years, the response by the sheriff’s department to the Key Pen was slow and officer-coverage was sparse. Now, with 24-hour coverage, county records show response times have improved.

Lt. Larry Bauer, the head of the Peninsula Detachment, wrote in a message posted on the detachment’s Website, “Keep in mind that there is a difference between (the statistics reported) and the actual numbers of crimes that occur in our communities. Not all crimes get reported to law enforcement. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the one I hear most often is, ‘I don’t call 911 because your officers never respond.’ As you might expect, this is the last thing that I want to hear. If crime is not reported, it makes it look like crime levels are lower than they actually are. My deputy staffing levels are partially dependent upon the number of crimes reported in our detachment each year. Each time a citizen decides to not call to report a crime, it hurts the entire community. So please report crimes when they occur.”

Last summer, incidents of car prowls occurred in several neighborhoods, as car stereo systems were targeted. Watson said that during the period of June 1 to Aug. 31, the detachment received 2,269 calls for service, 13 of which were for vehicle prowls.

“The detachment received 78 calls for service for vehicle prowls for the unincorporated areas of Pierce County west of the Narrows Bridge,” she said. Of those, 33 reports were taken to document the crime. Areas affected by multiple incidents include the State Route 16/State Route 302 interchange area and SR-16 near the west side of the Narrows Bridge area. The 78 recorded incidents only include those reported … by the victim. If the victim failed to call the sheriff, it is not recorded as a crime. The victim may think the value was insignificant, (or that) there is no chance of catching the perpetrator or (that) law enforcement doesn’t care. We cannot factor unreported crimes into our trend watch and cannot account for how unreported crimes affect a trend we are monitoring.”

Long driveways, dark roads, and heavily forested areas make it difficult to keep a vigilant watch for criminal activities. Stories have been circulating about Vaughn homes with their front doors kicked in, with nothing apparently missing. In November, a rash of vandalism was reported to the KP News by resident Troy Erwin. At least 30 mailboxes were destroyed near Carney Lake, off Wright-Bliss Road, on three different streets, according to Erwin.

“From the look of the damage, it appears they used a 2-inch metal pipe,” to damage and knock the boxes off their posts, he said. “My mailbox was completely destroyed, but five mailboxes in the same vicinity were not damaged, which might give an indication (the vandals) know someone in the neighborhood.”

A couple living across the street, “who don’t miss a thing,” according to Erwin, “didn’t see them and they didn’t hear their dogs bark.” He added, “We learned a long time ago, if we want to get our important mail, we need a post office box.” Erwin is offering $100 toward a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible, and he said he hopes that reward fund can grow through other contributions.

In other incidents, batches of stolen mail found roadside, under brush in a ditch, were returned to the Vaughn Post Office for investigation and delayed delivery. Mail theft is a felony under Federal Title 18 Section 1708, punishable by fines and/or not more than five years imprisonment.

Watson noted, “The detachment reviews all calls for service on a daily basis and receives monthly reports from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department’s Crime Analysis Unit. We are constantly monitoring to determine any trends we can curtail.”

If the detachment notices a trend, the active community groups and neighborhoods in the vicinity are contacted and informed about the trend, so they can spread the alert. The detachment also offers an electronic peninsula-wide alert system for notification of incidents occurring within its jurisdiction that may affect many residents living in this area. Residents can sign up for that email notification by clicking on the “My Account” link at


For more information about forming a Neighborhood Action Team, or to view crime statistics for your neighborhood, visit


Any emergency calls should be directed to 911. For a non-emergency, to report a crime that has already occurred, or to speak with an on-duty deputy, call (253) 798-4721 and choose option 1

when the the recording begins.

To report illegal drug activity in your neighborhood, you can telephone the hotline at (253)798-7537, or call Crime Stoppers at (253)591-5959. Or make an online report here.