Mayor’s Message: crime report for 2017 remained flat

Mayor’s Message for June 2018 Town Topics newsletter

Police Chief John Cheesman and his officers work hard to be visible to the community.

They want you — and the bad guys — to see them patrolling our neighborhoods and business districts. And they especially focus on connecting with the children of our community because they want kids to grow up trusting the police.

That’s why you see Fircrest Police officers at National Night Out, the Santa Sleigh Ride, Polar Plunge for Special Olympics, Chief For A Day, Kiwanis Terrific Kid awards, and more. I love that my 9-year-old son sees our officers and wants to talk to them (especially if they’ll let him sit on the FPD motorcycle).

Still, it’s not all fun and games and school lunch buddies. Policing is serious business, and Fircrest is not immune to the challenges in society. From domestic violence and drunken drivers to burglaries and those awful “porch pirates,” our police officers handle difficult situations on a daily basis.

Thanks to their hard work, our crime rate is relatively flat in many categories, and declining in others. Here are a few highlights of Chief Cheesman’s recent 2017 crime report:

Crime                          2016    2017

Burglary                      43        45

Theft                          137      103

Auto theft                    19        13

Assault                        59        39

Domestic violence      150      90

Malicious mischief       34        33

Drug arrests                17        16

There were two notable increases. Arrests for driving while the license is suspended jumped from 179 to 384. And criminal citations increased from 361 to 550. If you’re in trouble with the law, or your license has been suspended for various reasons, you’re going to want to avoid Fircrest.

Due to space constraints, I’ve only shared a few highlights from the Chief’s report. The full report offers statistics over a four-year period. You can find it under the “Up-to-date Information” link at www.CityOfFircrest.net.

The Fircrest Police Department does an amazing job, but they can’t do it alone. Even in a small city, our officers can’t be everywhere at once. We all have to pitch in and do our part to watch our neighborhoods and report crimes and suspicious activities. As the chief says, “If you see something, say something.”

Updates on liquor regs, the 2016 budget, and the Rec Center feasibility study

It’s been a busy fall for the Fircrest City Council, so here are updates on several items of popular interest:

LIQUOR: Voters will decide on Nov. 3 whether to lift the prohibition on serving liquor-by-the-glass in the central business districts. The Planning Commission, a volunteer panel of citizens, has developed draft zoning regulations for the City Council’s consideration if/when voters approve the measure. The City Council has scheduled a public hearing on the matter for Nov. 24 at 7 p.m.

BUDGET: After five public meetings in October, we are still on track to adopt the 2016 budget on Nov. 10. As I’ve previously reported, the $22 million budget is in excellent shape, with all bills covered, healthy reserves, plenty of available cash flow, and enough left over to manage some capital needs. There’s a list of final decisions to be made at that meeting. I have put two items on that list for consideration by the full Council:

  • Police: I’ve been working with city staff and the mayor to identify whether we have enough sustainable funding to restore a position in the Police Department that was cut as the Great Recession hit (several years before I joined the Council). We currently have nine officers providing 24/7 protection. Chief John Cheesman has shown me how much more coverage he can provide if that position is restored, and we both believe that will cut down on vehicle prowls and other property crimes. There appears to be enough funding available in the 2016 budget, but we don’t want to add it unless we’re sure we can carry it forward for years to come. That’s why I worked with the chief last week on a Plan B: If we’re not confident there’s enough funding to restore a permanent position yet, I will propose using that available 2016 funding for emphasis patrols (paying our current staff overtime to provide more coverage). We actually use very little overtime, so we believe the officers will appreciate the opportunity to earn extra income.
  • Fircrest Fun Days: A citizen committee has been meeting to figure out ways to give a boost to Fun Days, the annual weekend festival in August that has seen declining interest by vendors. The city only spent $7,500 on this year’s festival. I’m proposing a boost – up to an additional $2,500, depending on other decisions made in the budget – so the city can consider adding more activities and show vendors and sponsors that we’re committed to maintaining a quality event.
  • Other items to be determined include the purchase of a new street sweeper (our current sweeper is getting harder and harder to repair because it’s no longer made and we can’t locate parts), and purchasing two new police cars, among other things.

POOL/REC CENTER: Last year, we adopted a Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) plan, which contained a wish list of every improvement that a committee of citizens could think of for our parks over the next 20 years. It doesn’t mean we’ll do all of those things, but we aren’t eligible for grants unless we have such a plan, which you can find here. The plan also recommended hiring an expert to evaluate the condition of the pool and the Roy H. Murphy Recreation Center, and to offer options for improvements. The city is in the final stages of negotiating a contract with a highly regarded consultant, and the process will include public hearings to find out what you think. That’ll happen in the coming months, so stay tuned for more information soon.

Thoughts after doorbelling in the rain with my son

I spent the weekend walking around parts of Fircrest, and I feel invigorated and inspired by the conversations I had with voters. People are proud to live here. They love the peace, the pace, and the sense of place you feel when you’ve arrived here.

I walked more than 18,000 steps this weekend, according to the pedestrian tracker app on my phone. The first 8,000 came on Saturday, which was a beautiful day for knocking on doors and talking with neighbors. I started in the southwest corner of the city. Many folks on Weathervane Drive and Woodside Drive said they appreciate my goal of seeking grant funding to add a sidewalk on 44th Street, which is narrow and hilly and dangerous for pedestrians.

After taking a break to watch my son’s U-8 soccer game at Fircrest Park, I stayed in the area and talked to homeowners along Contra Costa adjacent to the park. Among other things, they are interested in the future of the Rec Center and pool. Then I headed over to San Juan and Forrest Park Drive, where I talked to people about my interest in adding an officer to our 9-member police department so we can increase neighborhood patrols. (They were surprised that my opponent opposes this idea).

Wet shoesSunday brought more challenging conditions. It rained. A lot. My feet were soaked by mid-afternoon. (I may have earned a few sympathy votes.) I started out walking along Golden Gate, W Summit, and Harvard. As I headed home for lunch with my family, I saw my opponent visiting homeowners along El Dorado, so I decided to give her (and them) some space and I started my post-lunch tour on Buena Vista, W Mount, and Mar Vista. Then I went back to the north side of town and visited El Dorado, Del Monte, Farallone, and Princeton, before finishing up on Crestwood in the central part of town.

The best part was my 6 ¾-year-old son, Ryan, joined me for the afternoon because Kathleen had to work. He was fascinated by the idea of knocking on doors and asking for support. Ryan and I had fun conversations with voters and with each other as we walked in the rain. His Batman boots were a more sensible choice than my sneakers.

 As of Friday, 10 percent of Fircrest voters have submitted their ballots to the county elections office. Lots of people told me they’ve already voted for meEdit. And this was interesting: I asked nearly everyone if there’s anything concerning them; if there’s anything the city needs to address. Nearly every voter told me the city is doing great and they couldn’t think of anything. Only when I outlined my efforts to increase police staffing so that we can have more patrols in neighborhoods did many voters then say, “yes, that would be great.”

My opponent is trying to make it sound like there are huge problems in our city. That’s from the classic political playbook that says you have to be negative in order to persuade people to vote an incumbent out of office. The reality is people are happy here. We take care of our streets and our parks. We have great programs and events that bring neighbors together. One contractor who owns a home on San Juan even told me our permitting department is the most customer friendly of any he deals with in the region.

A final point: Not surprisingly, a lot of people asked for my position on Fircrest Proposition 1, the liquor-by-the-drink question. I was proud to describe my role in initiating the effort on the City Council, and then going with Councilmember Medley to Olympia to change state law so that we can have this vote without harming businesses in annexed areas that already have liquor licenses. We are also working on the regulations that will clear the way for restaurants to expand their offerings or decide to locate here, while still preserving the charm and integrity of the neighborhood.

Supporting a better 911 system

I’ve long told friends that serving on the U.S. Open Operating Committee was the coolest experience of my 6 ½-year career as Pierce County’s Communications director, but being on the innovative team that created South Sound 911 ranks as the most important.

When you call 9-1-1, you expect a cop, firefighter or ambulance to arrive – or some combination of the three – as fast as possible. But problems with the 911 system had festered below the radar for years. The problem was largely one of silos – over the decades, various public safety agencies built their own radio systems, and some had their own dispatch facilities with their own systems. Cops, firefighters, paramedics and dispatchers often could not communicate directly with each other – even while working at the same scene.

In stepped Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, my boss at the time, with a solution.

South Sound 911 logoSeveral agencies, including the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, needed to upgrade their radio systems (some of which were still analog) to meet new FCC requirements to reduce frequency bandwidth. There was no sense in each agency spending millions of dollars to buy new digital radios and systems, McCarthy argued, if they were going to keep operating independently of each other. She proposed that the biggest systems combine their resources under one umbrella.

Thus, the idea of South Sound 911 was born.

The County Executive assembled a team of partner agencies to work out the details. I had the privilege of joining fire and law enforcement officials and city managers as the plan came together. My role was to coordinate the public outreach. I led the development of presentations like this one to explain the problem and the proposed solution. Our partners made these presentations more than 200 times throughout the community. (The communications group I chaired also came up with the agency name and the logo.)

Pierce County voters overwhelmingly approved the plan in November 2011. Since then, new digital radios have been delivered to nearly every cop and firefighter in the county. And those first responders are talking to each other on a new digital radio network that went live last year. The new network is so strong that an officer in the basement of the Fircrest Police Department heard an officer in the basement of the Police Department in Eatonville as clear as if he was in the next room during testing.

Radios are the lifeline for first responders. Giving them the tools to keep them safe makes us all safer. It was a privilege to work with first responders on an extraordinary regional partnership that provided police officers in Fircrest and elsewhere with new digital radios, a new network, and more peace of mind.

Oct. 23 update: PCTV just produced this short video about the new Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. Fircrest PD is among the agencies using this system now.

Where we’ve been, and where we’re going

League of Women Voters asks about economic development, open government, building consensus, and more

The League of Women Voters has an extraordinary history — forming in 1920 as advocates were making the final push to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, finally giving women the right to vote. The nonpartisan League has been providing valuable information to voters ever since.

My opponent Heather and I both filled out the League’s candidate questionnaire. It’s a generic one designed for all cities, but it still shows some big differences between us.

League of Women Voters logo

League of Women Voters

Once again, Heather offers happy thoughts but no actual plans. She also takes a couple of strange, ill-informed shots at me. The League’s candidate guide is available at www.vote411.org. You have to drill in by street address, which is handy because you can see our answers side-by-side. I plugged in the address for City Hall and provide the link here. Or, here’s a link to Heather’s answers, and mine are pasted below.

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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):

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Here’s how many service calls Tacoma Fire responded to in Fircrest

Fircrest has enjoyed a strong partnership with the Tacoma Fire Department for many years. The firefighters assigned to our city provide excellent, professional service. Plus, they have warmly entertained drop-ins by my family when we wanted to check out the cool fire engines. (By “we,” I obviously mean my son and I.)

This week’s Council packet contains the TFD’s annual report, including a breakdown of calls in Fircrest. We hear the sirens on a regular basis. Here’s some data that shows how much service they provide in our city:

  • TFD responded to 629 incidents in 2014, down slighTFD_logotly from 636 the year before.
  • The average response time was 5:39 from dispatch to arrival on the scene.
  • There were 418 confirmed incidents that required emergency medical services (EMS) response in 2014, an increase of six.
  • There were two confirmed car fires and one confirmed structure fire in 2014.
  • Through the first two quarters of 2015, Tacoma Fire responded to 314 emergency incidents in Fircrest, compared to 280 during the same period in 2014 – a 12.1% increase.

Finally, the report from Tacoma Fire Chief James Duggan thanked Mayor David Viafore, who decided not to seek re-election this year, for his involvement in setting the relationship between the city and the Fire Department.

“On behalf of TFD and the residents of both Fircrest and Tacoma, I want to thank you for your vision and leadership that helped forge and maintain the (Fircrest Services) Agreement, and we look forward to continuing our service to Fircrest in the future,” Chief Duggan wrote.

Oddz & Endz (lame, I know, but it’s all I got)

Two readers – well, both readers – noted today that this space has been neglected for far too long, especially since the city had to cut its “Town Topics” newsletter to save money. I’ve only been a councilmember for, like, 5 minutes, so I’ve been trying to get further up to speed on issues around the city. It’s similar to the deep-rooted fear that journalists have – I don’t want to write a front page story that’s completely freakin’ wrong.

Still, in my first few weeks, I’ve come to appreciate the “Council packet” that’s dropped off at my house every Friday. It contains reports from City Manager Rick Rosenbladt, Police Chief John Cheesman and other department heads. It often contains little nuggets of news that could be of interest to folks. I hope to share those regularly in this space. I’ll call this feature Oddz and Endz for now because I can’t think of a clever news name that incorporates fir trees or chainsaw bear carvings.

Some recent items of interest:

Storm debris: The snowmageddon and surprise ice storm left lots of trees, branches and other debris all over the place. U.P. Refuse has agreed to allow residents to dump large storm debris (yard waste items) at a reduced rate of $5 per yard. The best option is to collect wood debris and cut them to fit inside curbside yard waste toters. If the debris is too large or heavy for the curbside toter, residents can take the debris to U.S. Refuse, 2815 Rochester (off 27th Street) in University Place. Residents can also drop off storm debris for free at Pierce County transfer stations.

Storm response: The city’s Public Works crew did an outstanding job of responding to the snow and ice conditions. They plowed the streets, removed snowpiles at key locations, repaired potholes, unplugged storm drains, repaired damaged streetlights and wiring, and collected a large amount of debris. There were no reports of significant damage to any city property.

Streets: The Public Works crew is preparing for crack sealing this summer to help prolong the time before reconstruction or other rehabilitation work is necessary. This year’s plan covers:

  • All streets in sweeping zone 1, located in the northeast corner of Fircrest (boundaries are from South 19th to Regents Blvd, and from Orchard Street to Alameda Ave.)
  • Electron Way, from Alameda Ave. to Regents Blvd.
  • Alameda Ave., from South 19th to 44th Street W.

New business: The bankrupt skate rink formerly known as “Wheelz” is set to reopen under new management as “Rollin’ 253 Skate & Community Center.” It’s nice to have a family venue in town, so we wish them luck. They are located at Sunrise Center, just off Mildred Street.

Parks: Tickets are on sale for the 6th annual Daddy-Daughter Dance. I think I’ve been to most of these. It’s an awesome evening. I keep threatening to embarrass my daughter by busting out my old break-dancing moves, except I’m worried I’ll bust more than a move. Also, planning is under way for the second Derby Day!

Wainwright: The city manager asked Tacoma Public Schools to clean the dingy sign outside the now-closed Wainwright Elementary, and to remove the outdated message on it. The school district said they would do so. The vacant school property will be the subject of a future post here. What are the possibilities for that site?

Property taxes: The Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer’s Office has announced that property owners can look up their 2012 taxes after 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 3 at www.piercecountywa.org/atr.

Police I: Police arrested a woman after a high speed chase, and she’s been tied to a recent burglary in Fircrest. She was charged with possession of stolen property and identity theft. Police also are seeking two men who pick-pocketed a wallet from a local coffee shop and an iPhone from a local law office.

Police II: The department’s radar detectors were recently recalibrated. Hey, speeders, you’ve been warned.

How Fircrest residents voted Nov. 8

First of all, I want to thank Fircrest voters for casting a vote for me. My friends have good-naturedly teased me about my uncontested run for office (voter mandate?!?; OK, maybe not), but it’s definitely a humbling experience to see more than 1,200 1,500 people put a mark by my name.

Now I’d like to get to the heart of why I created this site. We’re such a small ‘burb that we generally get overlooked by media, unless a car thief is found hiding naked in a hot tub or it takes police 9 hours to coax a suspect out of a tree. (This is where I give another shout-out to TNT reporter Christian Hill for his recent story about the volunteer who gave a facelift to the Tot Lot’s Fred Flintstone.)

I took a look tonight at how the three precincts in Fircrest voted on three key issues. Election results always provide an interesting glimpse into the thoughts of a community. In this case, I find it interesting that Fircrest supported the tax increase for South Sound 911 at a rate that’s 8 percentage points higher than the countywide result. We also didn’t care much for the latest offering from Tim Eyman’s initiative factory.

Results as of Nov. 9:

Pierce County Proposition 1 (South Sound 911)

Approved: 1065 (62.6%)

Rejected: 636 (37.3)

Initiative 1183 (liquor privatization):

Approved: 1010 (57.6%)

Rejected: 742 (42.3%)

Initiative 1125 (Tim Eyman’s transportation measure)

Approved: 747 (43.6%)

Rejected: 964 (56.3%)