Fires and crime drove the meeting agenda at White Center town hall
Mac's Triangle Pub was packed on Monday Sept. 27 with local White Center merchants and residents with two things on their mind. The spate of recent fires and the seemingly out of control crime in the area.
There to respond to their questions were Senior Deputy Bill Kennamer of the King County Sheriff's office and lead fire investigator for the King County Sheriff's office, Steven Crown and later in the meeting John Taylor Director of King County Local Services, his associate David Daw, External Relations Manager for that department and Henry Liu, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Seattle Police Department.
The White Center community and vicinity has been the scene of at least six recent fires in the last 6 months including on Sept. 26 just north of White Center at 16th SW and SW Barton. Ring camera security footage from across the street showed a fire starting in that abandoned building followed by a figure coming out the door and slowly walking away.
Those in the meeting spoke about the "Lumberyard Bar" arson fire that destroyed seven businesses in the early morning hours of July 5 and the second fire to strike the "Locker Room Bar" recently that has resulted in those non operating businesses being broken into "every night" by people seeking anything of value.
Deputy Kennamer said that White Center and the area south of the county/city line (Roxbury Street) has for the past 23 years had a minimum of two officers to patrol what he called K-7. That area is from 31st SW and down to part of South Park on the east. then south to 116th SW. He explained that "Our elected officials have decided that we are no longer going to follow the broken windows rule," meaning, "if we take care of the little stuff there will be less of the big stuff." But the laws and rules police must now follow have been changed he said. "If somebody came up right now and broke that window with a brick, I can go out and catch him but I can't take that guy to jail. I can't fix that. Only our elected officials can fix that."
The significance of that he went on to say is that "I need a letter from the owner of a building to be able to arrest homeless people from going into an abandoned building and sleeping there." This was in response to what happened at the site of the former Atlas Heating building at 9811 17th SW. It had burned once before, and then again on Sept. 1.
Business owners in the crowd and others complained that they often see patrol cars just parked or not apparently patrolling the community. Kennamer explained that often deputies are writing reports but when pressed on this issue he said that, "I'm just a flatfoot beat cop," and that to get more serious response including potentially more police presence, people would need to reach out to his precinct Commander Joe Hodgson and even the Sheriff, Mitzi Johanknecht. The deputy said he would bring these concerns up with them himself too.
A question came up regarding the potential for "citizen patrols" ala the Guardian Angels organization in New York. Kennamer said he was not personally opposed to it but could not speak for his department. Others suggested that teams of people charged with preventing crime are not a good idea since they tend to devolve into a kind of vigilante group.
The owners of Lucky Cannabis on 16th SW mentioned that White Center is in the "top 6%" of all crime areas in the nation. Several people in the meeting wondered why there was no emphasis on combatting crime in the community. Deputy Kennamer said, "that's above my pay grade."
Fire investigator Steven Crown, took the majority of the questions since the fires have been so concentrated in the community recently. He explained that while the "Lumberyard Bar" fire was in fact an arson (and since "LGBTQ people are a protected class" most likely a hate crime). The two fires at the Locker Room Bar were however not arsons and were proven to be, through video surveillance footage caused by discarded smoking materials. He explained in detailed fashion that the Locker Room had two wooden planters in front. Potting soil in those planters contained organic materials that produce their own natural level of heat as they breakdown. But people putting cigarette butts in those planters, "accelerated the process," causing them to catch fire, in both instances. In the case of the fires on 17th SW. he explained that it was most likely caused by homeless individuals who essentially lit a "campfire" stay warm and that led to the building burning, again twice. He could not comment further on the Lumberyard Bar fire since it is an active and ongoing investigation. Asked about the fire at 16th SW and SW Barton he said he knew nothing about it. That led to questions about how much King County and Seattle exchange information regarding fire investigations. "Not much" he said, but that this was likely going to change and that he would personally contact them and look into any potential linkages to other fires.
But he wanted to allay people fears, many of which were repeated in the meeting saying, "There isn't some mad arsonist, running around White Center, starting fires."
The meeting was somewhat hastily called so a few people had trouble getting there on time and among them was John Taylor, Director of Local Services for King County.
He was asked later in the meeting by Coach Lee Torres of the Boxing Gym Westside about the idea of hiring a private security company to patrol the area. "We actually explored that even before the fire," he said, "When we had the people who were shattering all the door windows. I just want to say something. I've known Bill Kennamer for a really long time, Bill Kennamer does amazing work in this community. But there's only one Bill Kennamer and he can't be everywhere at once. So I appreciate people's frustrations. We share it and it's a real challenge for the Sheriff's office with the funding they have and how they support staff. We thought about that. The challenge is finding a resource for it, packaging it, and we can talk more about it. We were hoping we could use COVID dollars. As everyone knows, the County got a ton of money from the Federal Government to fund our response to COVID. But when we talked to attorneys about it those dollars are unavailable. So we have to come up with other solutions. Let's talk more about it.
David Daw, External Relations Manager spoke in the meeting and referred to various programs and funding opportunties open to White Center businesses and community members.
The Community Service Area (CSA) grants up to $5000 to businesses or organizations to promote almost anything that supports local unincorporated communities. Starting Oct.1 for 2022. Here is the list of grants from 2021.
Conservation Corps program is expanding to approximately 25 people. They work Mondays and Wednesdays. They are charged with cleaning up litter and cleaning grafitti in the central business core. They work in Skyway on other days of the week. A five person crew is working now.
Community Investment Committee has $10 million and will design and carry out a process to improve Skyway, West Hill and North Highline and they will solicit ideas from the community
If you have furthers questions you are urged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206-477-3800.
"He explained that "Our elected officials have decided that we are no longer going to follow the broken windows rule," meaning, "if we take care of the little stuff there will be less of the big stuff." But the laws and rules police must now follow have been changed he said. "If somebody came up right now and broke that window with a brick, I can go out and catch him but I can't take that guy to jail. I can't fix that. Only our elected officials can fix that.""
Ask a thug a question, get a thug answer. "Broken windows" policing has been proven over and over again not to work as it only alienates locals and ties up a bunch of resources in prosecution and incarceration for victimless crime - e.g. Eric "I Can't Breathe" Garner selling "loosies."
Misdemeanor crimes aren't being put in jail right now because of COVID. And it makes it clear that when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail even though it may be a screw, or a bolt. Taking that brick-thrower to jail and then putting them back out on the street in the same circumstances (now worse in fact, as they're now less employable due to having a record) doesn't stop brick-throwing. Assessing their biopsychosocial needs and meeting them (e.g. medication, housing, work, etc.), and engaging them in restorative justice (e.g. cleaning up after other property crime) works, but means "giving people stuff as a reward for crime" according to some views. And it doesn't make a case for adding money to the budgets for police and incarceration.
Thank you officers for what you do, all this defund the police is not the way.
elections has consequences and that starts at the county level as well as school board level.