To White Center business owners crime feels out of control; Crime stats say it's declining
An incident on Tuesday morning, Oct. 12 around 7am brought several things into focus in White Center. The Ring Camera at the back door of the Bizzarro Italian Cafe on 16th SW recorded two men, using a pry bar to break in the back door. This took place in broad daylight. One of the men did not disguise his face. The other is apparently someone known to local business owners as a likely suspect in a series of break-ins or attempted break-ins in the community in the last three months. The King County Sheriff was called since an alarm was tripped. A deputy responded at 7:37AM but the perpetrators were gone. Next door to the cafe is the Southgate Roller Rink. They called too. Then it got more interesting. As the day wore on the video and stills of the break in were posted on social media and people recognized one of the perpetrators and even spotted him riding his bike around the community. More calls were made to 911 by Erin Rhoads of Southgate Roller Rink. As she got more reports she kept calling.
King County Councilmember was contacted too. He said, "I was receiving multiple messages from Jaedra James (The owner of the Bizarro Cafe) and Erin Rhoads through the day yesterday with alarming accounts of a break-in and repeated contacts with the alleged perpetrator who was already a known individual. I contacted Major Hodgson with this information and asked that he have deputies contact Ms. James and Ms. Rhoads and provided their contact information. I later learned a deputy was meeting with Ms. James."
Jaedra said "I was texting the Sheriff pix of (the suspect) ALL over the street - throughout the morning saying “here he is now at the _____” fill in the blank - now he’s home. Then it seems that the sheriff went and sat outside his house."
Then incredibly she was contacted by the man she had seen breaking in. He wanted to turn himself in. He had heard or seen his photo online and wanted to set things straight. He identified himself as "James".
Jaedra posted an update on Facebook saying in part, "...He said “I am the one on your video and I was in here today”, that “Nick” (guy with the pry bar) told him he was camping in Bizzarro and would get the money he owed James, if James went in with him.
James said that once he realized that Nick was lying to him and that, Nick was actually “breaking in” he said “no man this isn’t good, let’s go” as the alarm was sounding.
James asked me to call 911 so he could clear his name. I did. It was taking FOREVER for The Sheriff to show up. So James gave me his phone number and said “please call me ill come right back, I just live over there”. I said “I know where you live (behind Macadons, and I know EVERYwhere you’ve been today, Smoke Town, Walgreens, The Triangle area etc… you’re being watched by everyone in the neighborhood, I have pictures of you all over the place !” He said “I know, it’s crazy everyone is looking at me, I want to tell you I’m sorry, I don’t mean to do this, it was crazy, The Sheriff was parked outside my house.”
I showed him the picture of the person who kicked a hole in my roof, and climbed in, he said “THATS NICK, that’s who I was with today, he’s breaking into ALL these places.”
The Sheriff finally showed up, I sent James a text, he said “I’ll be there in 5, I need to use the restroom” this was after a text he sent me apologizing all over again. He showed up, he gave a statement, he went home. The Sheriff got a call to Key Bank and had to speed off."
There is other footage of someone attempting to break in to Bizzarro but no positive ID has been established.
Rhoads sent the photos directly to King County Councilmember Joe McDermott. James also reached out to McDermott. They were told that he would contact Captain Hodgson, Precinct Commander in Burien.
Rhoads and her husband Josh are far from alone in terms of being victims of crime in White Center. Still the King County Sheriff has to deal with stats and those stats are compiled by calls they get. They insist that their response times are a swift as possible. When asked on the street why it took until 3pm to respond to a 7am break-in and a suspect wanting to turn himself in, the deputy said, "We're understaffed," Asked what could be done she said, "Ask our Governor."
More incidents have taken place since a series of devastating fires destroyed or closed 11 businesses in the main business district. The blight they have become is hurting other businesses too since not only do they smell terrible but according to some business owners, they are an attraction for criminal activity for both scavengers and those who would use them to gain access to adjacent business roofs so they could break in.
Fires typically take from 90 to 120 days for insurance companies to process claims, which means the debris from the fire on July 5 and the more recent fire at the Locker Room will not be cleaned up for at least a few weeks more. Even then debris from fires is toxic material and cleanup is a hazardous process.
The Sheriff's office points to the call record they say shows that not only has criminal activity declined in White Center year over year but that they typically respond to calls quickly.
The King County Sheriff's Arson Investigator explained at the recent Town Hall meeting that even if police can respond, the need a letter from the building owner to enter the premises. If those premises are hazardous, even that doesn't matter. They won't enter to pursue or apprehend a suspect.
Others touched by criminal activity in White Center shared their experiences.
Justin Cline, owner of Full Tilt Ice Cream wrote:
"Before the fire we had tip jars stolen, windows broken, the random belligerent harassing staff and customers. Since the fire, the have broken in 4 times, and tried numerous other times"
Marlene Yessica Lopez, owner of La Tipica Oxaquena wrote:
"Broken windows, 1 break in. Collateral damage from an arson.My neighbor has been robbed at knife point. She’s gotten broken into more than once."
Donna Chan, owner of Macadon's
"No problems for 4 years and then hit with the window lady 5 times!"
Erin and Josh Rhoads owners of Southgate Roller Rink wrote:
"Throughout the pandemic we had many attempted break ins at the basement of the rink. We called police many times when Noble Barton was closed and people were breaking onto the patio and living there, climbing on the rooftops to light fires for warmth or cooking, and urinating/defecating on the their deck. We were also one of the victims of the window breaker hitting our rink bar window and days later the original glass blocks on 16th Ave. We had attempted break ins at the bank as well and someone defecated on the doors. Lots of graffiti and hate speech on the rink windows, Lumber Yard, and down 16th.
Mid September- Witnessed man assault a woman on 16th after screaming for about an hour in front of the sign shop. Police were called by both the sign shop owner and Southgate owner because he also was carrying a screwdriver. He ran off before police arrived. two days later came into the rink and shoved our female employee down. Cops called on both incidents. He was told to move along. We see him around all the time.
9/13 second locker room fire
9/26 someone breaks into Bizzarro from the roof and tries to pry a rooftop window open at the Southgate building. Police called and report filed
9/27 man on the roof hiding from police and running across the rooftop of both Bizzarro and Southgate building. He ran into the rubble of The Locker Room and police found him. It was too unstable to go get him so they left with the man still inside Locker where you could see him.
9/28 heard yelling outside window of Southgate Building. Looked out to see a man holding a gun to another mans head while he was on his knees on the ground. Car came around and honked and they sped off. The man that was on his knees is a vagrant who walked away.
9/30 man broke into the rubble of Locker Room and he was drinking from the bottles. Witnessed by many people around 11ish PM and he started screaming at people and police were called.
10/4 two men caught on camera by Southgate. Police called while they were in progress of breaking in. Police came, looked at their IDs and left. They were there at 3:43am and both men came back and got something at 4:30am. We can see them walking fast away with a bag of some sort on camera. They had propped up a pallet trying to get on the roof.
10/5 7pm Josh called police after two men were hiding by the back deck of Bizzarro and looking around there. Later that night after new lights installed on the deck of Bizzarro someone came to check it out and walked up the back deck but ran off.
10/6 Break in at Bizzarro at 7am back door.
5:30pm two men get onto back patio of Bizzarro and one man gets on the roof of Southgate peeking in the windows and running over until confronted by the building owner Josh. Police called and dispatched. The king county operator was agitated and said she knew of all the break ins because she is the one we call all the time. He walked away after throwing rocks at a Southgate staff member who took his photo that was given to police. They were unable to locate him.
10/7 someone goes on back porch of Bizzarro and steals their new flood light and solar panel by ripping it (screwed in) off the wall. Siren was triggered and they left.
10/9 Someone tries to break into the back of Full Tilt Ice cream
10/10 man pushes his way through the front desk of the rink and tries to run in and steal a patrons purse in the evening adult skate. The staff chased him out and called police. Staff held him down for 10 minutes until police arrived so a trespass order could be executed and the police said they wouldn’t arrest him.
10/12 break in at Bizzarro. Police dispatched."
King County commonly maintains 2 patrol cars in other unincorporated districts. But based on owner reports and what has been happening recently in White Center they may need to re-examine that, to shorten response times and have a more visible appearance in the community.
Should it require a Councilmember to call a police captain to get police to respond?
At the community town hall on Sept. 27, White Center’s store front Deputy Sgt. Bill Kennamer called on the community to call 911 when they see crimes being committed or matters that need to be checked out noting that they have the most awareness of what is happening. Those calls help the police see patterns of crime and direct deputies attention to areas that need it.
Another local business owner at the meeting said, “We aren’t necessarily the wealthiest neighborhood in Seattle, let’s put it that way. And when you aren’t you end up with two cops, doing the best that they can, per shift or beat, whatever that shift is…"
Director of Local Services for King County John Taylor interrupted her and said, “Make it my problem. My job is to coordinate services in this community and all the other communities in unincorporated King County. I don’t know what happened with the incoming precinct commander. But the outgoing commander, he would call me in the middle of the night if there was something happening in White Center. We’ve got a new Precinct Commander, he’s trying to figure it out. Let’s give him a little bit of grace. I’m sure he’s going to be as awesome as Jeff Flohr was once he gets up to speed.”
Now the Department of Local Services has responded scheduled a virtual Public Safety Meeting for Oct. 19. saying, "Meet virtually with King County officials, firefighters, and law enforcement to talk about recent challenges in the White Center community."
That meeting will hopefully produce some answers and more concrete measures to curb the crimes that have been such a disruption and cause for concern.
*Join Zoom Meeting https://kingcounty.zoom.us/j/85676401136
Meeting ID: 856 7640 1136 / Passcode: SAFEpublic
Dial-in: 253-215-8782 / Passcode: 5584815021