Most crime on the Key Peninsula is not dangerous or violent, but its impact on individuals is significant, said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. “I understand the impact of property crime; it is a total violation,” he said.
Neighborhoods, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and Lindquist are all working to address crime on the KP.
RoxAnne Simon of Safe Streets described the importance of neighborhoods as a first line of defense. “We are the eyes and ears,” she said. “The best crime deterrent is a nosy neighbor.”
Simon also serves on the KP Community Council and co-advises the KP Youth Council. She moved to the Key Peninsula in 2005 and has worked for Safe Streets for three months. She is in the KP Community Council office in Key Center Wednesday mornings to meet with residents who have questions or want to organize their neighborhoods.
Simon has information to help communities mobilize, including warning signs to post and a house watch form for residents to provide information needed to effectively report an incident to law enforcement. She has met with residents from Lake of the Woods, Palmer Lake and Wauna, among others. She also meets regularly with the sheriff’s department to share information.
Lt. Rusty Wilder, the sheriff’s detachment commander overseeing the peninsula, mountain and foothills detachments, said that over the last five years there have been significant increases in identity theft, motor vehicle theft and theft from vehicles.
“We have experienced some increases in property crimes on the Key Peninsula,” he said. “The increases may be the result of a multitude of reasons, but we have recognized a connection between the overall population growth, the opioid epidemic and ‘serial’ criminals.”
“I’m very proud of the recent arrests by our peninsula deputies that have resulted in several career criminals being arrested for burglaries, car prowls and thefts,” he said. “I’m also very proud of our recent proactive efforts to address alcohol-related traffic violations, drug possession and property crimes.”
Some community members have complained that even when an arrest is made, the suspect is back within days. Lindquist said that people have a constitutional right to bail. After an arrest, the person is taken into custody and arraigned; a judge sets bail based on danger to the community and risk of flight. Because these are both usually low for property theft, offenders can be released on bail relatively easily.
“We want to hold repeat offenders accountable and get early offenders into treatment if root causes like drug use or mental health issues are an issue,” he said.
Lindquist also described the High Priority Offenders Program established in Pierce County in 2016, based on a successful program in New York City.
Using data, intelligence and modern technology, the program identifies repeat offenders. The prosecutor then seeks a higher bail and longer sentences. According to Lindquist, they are seeing positive results: 70 percent of high-priority offenders have remained in custody following arrest, as compared to roughly 20 percent of non-high-priority offenders. More than 85 percent have been sentenced to prison, compared to a state average of 37 percent. The average length of felony sentences for these repeat offenders is nearly four times the state average.
Wilder said the HPO program may not have a big impact on the cycle of arrest and nearly immediate return of offenders to our area because the program focuses on felonies, and most of the crime on the Key Peninsula is at a misdemeanor level. According to the Pierce County website, theft of property valued up to $250 is a misdemeanor.
Simon acknowledged that reducing property crime is a slow process. “The sheriff’s department is working hard and we need to work hard, too,” she said. “If you experience or witness a crime, call it in, even if it is not an emergency and no one will come out immediately. If it doesn’t get recorded, it is like it never happened.
“What works best to prevent these crimes is just being out there,” she said. “If you see someone who you think is suspicious, don’t be confrontational. If you do speak to them, just ask if they are lost or if you can help them.”
Safe Streets is planning a town hall meeting with representatives from the sheriff’s department in January. The time and place will be posted in the Key Center office once finalized and flyers will be distributed.
Simon welcomes calls, texts or emails from those seeking help or advice. Her Tacoma office phone number is 253-272-6824; her cellphone number is 253-226-4285; and her email is email@example.com.
Safe Streets was launched as a grassroots campaign in Tacoma in 1989 in response to rising gang-related crime. Its mission is to unite and inspire neighbors, youth and businesses to build safe, healthy, thriving communities. It receives both private and public funding.
Safe Streets now serves Tacoma and Pierce county and has a network of at least 125 neighborhood groups.
Safe Streets community mobilizers help these neighborhood groups define and address their own needs by utilizing organized block watches, youth leadership teams, graffiti removal teams, safe routes to school, and substance abuse and violence prevention education initiatives.
Some services provided by Safe Streets:
Several neighborhoods are taking action. Kristen Augusztiny, a member of the KP Community Council, moved to the Tiedman neighborhood in 2015. She began to organize after someone broke into her car and yard. She used Facebook and an app, Next Door, to establish a neighborhood watch group in spring 2016. She said they meet once or twice a year, but post on Facebook if unknown people or cars are in the area. Neighbors don’t directly confront intruders, but make it clear they are aware of their presence. They may take pictures with their phones or go up to let the interlopers know they are part of a neighborhood watch group and ask if they need help.
“We may not be able to eliminate crime, but we can at least move it out of our neighborhood,” Augusztiny said. “One of the known thieves in the area no longer prowls cars in our area. The last time he was arrested was in Gig Harbor.”
She said there has also been an added benefit. “We all know each other much better. We know who might be especially vulnerable and it has made a big difference to the neighborhood, not just in terms of crime but when there is an emergency, like a power outage,” Augusztiny said.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS