The facts about crime in Fircrest

Thanks to Facebook, neighbors have the ability to warn each other when a crime or suspicious activity happens on their street. As helpful as those anecdotal posts are, they can also have an unintentional side effect of affecting our overall perception of our community.

That’s been happening lately. Several residents have shared their experiences. And Police Chief John Cheesman has posted a few messages about specific incidents because he wants us to – I’m invoking Jerry Maguire here – help him help us. However, my opponent, Heather Heiderich, is ignoring context – or maybe she just doesn’t have any. Either way, she’s raising alarms in the cynical hope you’ll “throw the bum out,” even though it’s unclear what exactly she’d do once in office.

We all know Fircrest is special. It’s quiet, family-friendly, and safe. We have low crime, but that doesn’t mean we have no crime. City Councilmembers get a memo from the police chief every week. We regularly discuss incidents and issues with him. And once a year, the chief delivers his annual crime report to the Council to share annual data. It’s a valuable update, and he just gave his report on Sept. 21 – which is timely as we start working on the 2016 budget.

Public safety issues, particularly property crime, are important to everyone. I spent a lot of time learning about them when I was a journalist and in my careers with county government and the City of Fircrest. As is the case in every community every year, the crime stats fluctuate, with some going up and some going down. From the chief’s report, here’s a breakdown based on what went up or down in Fircrest from 2013 to 2014 (with additional years for context):

WHAT WENT UP:

Crime 2011 2012 2013 2014
Burglary 36 51 39 55
Fraud 33 35 38 56
Dom violence 98 88 112 114
Drug arrests 18 12 37 44
DWLS 234 235 243 293
Criminal citation 444 398 418 472

WHAT WENT DOWN:

Theft 111 105 106 93
Auto theft 10 12 16 13
Assaults 67 56 42 32
Malicious mischief 34 45 56 45
DUI 18 25 28 27

Definitions:
DWLS: Driving While License Suspended
Burglary: you go into a building to take something
Theft: taking from property without entering a building

As you can see, we have real-world problems here in Fircrest. Burglaries went up last year, but thefts dropped. Assaults continue to decline, but domestic violence arrests keep increasing. This is why we have a well-trained, professional police department, and it’s why the City Council worked hard during the Great Recession to protect funding for public safety.

Out of all those stats, we asked Chief Cheesman what troubles him most. He cited the rising number of domestic violence cases. That’s a disturbing trend everywhere, not just Fircrest, and it’s why one of my charitable preferences is to support the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center.

Regarding burglaries and thefts, the chief reported that one arrest often solves multiple cases because the people who commit those crimes usually don’t stop after one. One example is this couple accused of 66 burglaries throughout the region, including Fircrest. As the chief reminded us the other night, some larger jurisdictions don’t have the resources to respond to property crime reports. That’s not the case in Fircrest. My family learned that firsthand last year when a package was stolen from our front porch. A Fircrest officer took the police report, and the theft was quickly linked to an arrest that solved numerous other thefts.

Here are some other points from the chief’s annual report that may interest you:

• 12 of the 13 motor vehicles stolen last year were recovered.
• The fraud numbers jumped because of a huge breach of personal data from the Seattle Catholic Archdiocese, which affected churches, schools and an entire hospital system. Fircrest PD took police reports from local residents who were affected by the breach. In other words, those numbers reflect crime that didn’t physically happen here.
• Fircrest police officers have increased their neighborhood patrols, which is something I regularly advocated for last year and will do so again as we discuss the 2016 budget this fall. (More on that below.)
• You can sign up for a vacation check so that our officers will check your home while you are away.
• We brightened street lighting, particularly in areas near our city borders, to discourage outsiders from seeing an opportunity for a quick strike.
• We have a stronger, more reliable police radio system thanks to our partnership with South Sound 911, and we are getting a new computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system.

The chief has said his point with his Facebook messages is that we can take steps to better protect ourselves as individuals and neighbors. He regularly tells us that many thefts could be prevented with a little more vigilance. He cited two cases this month in which purses were left in cars where thieves could see them. Again, he shares these stories in order to help us help ourselves.

Which brings me to the current state of the Fircrest City Council election campaign.

Heather has declared that public safety is an issue she cares about – well, she’s written a couple of generic things about it on Facebook, anyway. The police chief’s presentation on the Sept. 21 City Council agenda was posted in advance, as always, and I thought she might finally attend a Council meeting to see how it works and get the latest information, but she didn’t. Instead, she found some stats on the internet and, lacking any context, used them to misrepresent my position as somehow uncaring about crime.

The only “solution” she’s offered is to say she’ll work with neighboring cities to get at the root of the problem. What does that even mean? Fircrest already has a great relationship with the Tacoma and UP police departments. All three cities – and others – collaborate on mutual aid agreements and they work together to solve crimes. In other words, her solution isn’t actually a solution.

Besides the chief, we have eight officers providing 24/7 coverage for our city of 6,500 residents. This year, one of our officers was on extended medical leave, which means we were short-handed. The department did a great job, but I don’t think they are adequately staffed. I’m working with the mayor to try and identify the funding to hire an additional officer. We’ve just begun the 2016 budget process, so it’s too soon to know if we can scrape together enough funding in our small city budget to hire another officer. It’s also too soon to know what other priorities my Council colleagues will want to address. But it’s a goal that’s worth discussing during our public budget hearings over the next month (five Mondays in a row, starting Sept. 28).

Now get this: Heather actually criticizes my effort (again, without specifics). I’d love to hear her explain in detail her plan to keep other cities’ criminals out of Fircrest without hiring another cop. I know a lot of mayors in other cities who also would love to hear such a “cost effective” plan, as she calls it.

Heather’s vague comments about public safety remind me of a clip from “The West Wing.” In it, the Florida governor who is running against President Bartlet is told about a terrible crime that’s occurred, shakes his head, and mumbles, “crime … boy, I don’t know.”

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