Gateway

Frustrated Key Peninsula residents, sheriff deputies begin to work together

A map showing areas on the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula that are affected by crimes against person. Data provided by 2017 records from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
A map showing areas on the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula that are affected by crimes against person. Data provided by 2017 records from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. Courtesy

Residents living on the Key Peninsula are a bit frustrated lately and have made their concerns about property crime known to the Pierce County Sheriff and their representatives.

A Jan. 29 meeting hosted by nonprofit Safe Streets brought together residents with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, Pierce County Council member Derek Young and Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist to discuss crime trends on the peninsula and what residents can do to help a short-staffed sheriff’s department.

“Based on community conversations, we thought it would be good to have a meeting,” Young, D- Gig Harbor, said, who represents District 7. “Essentially we had an exercise where we talked about concerns and things they wanted. A lot of this circles back to the sheriff not having enough deputies.”

Although crime overall has seen a small drop recently, property crime rates have risen on the Key Peninsula.

Young said because of the lack of money in the budget to support more deputies, the few deputies on the peninsula must prioritize calls.

“If there is something going on that’s a risk to people’s safety, they will prioritize those over a property crime that is not in progess ,” Young said. “It is frustrating for folks. A lot of times for property crimes you are not going to have (police) come out.”

WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY

At any time there is about one or two deputies from sheriff’s department covering the Key Peninsula, meaning that people may wait up to 30 minutes in an emergency before police can arrive to the scene. Pierce County sheriff’s Lt. Rusty Wilder said that his minimum staffing requires him to have one deputy on the Gig Harbor Peninsula and one on the Key Peninsula at all times, with a third deputy working in between. And because of the staff shortage, scheduling and other interdepartmental issues, that’s usually all he’s able to schedule.

It is a tough job for our deputies. I hear frustrations from our community, but I can tell you there is no one more frustrated than our deputies. They want to help but they have a lot of stuff going on. They keep very, very busy.

Pierce County Council Member Derek Young, D-Gig Harbor, District 7

“That is my minimum for everything from the (Tacoma Narrows Bridge) to the Mason County line,” Wilder said. “And that happens a lot. I usually have teams of three. So if everyone is working, are not sick and not in training, I have one guy on each side and one deputy in the middle floating.”

This is a problem, one that pushes Young to have more budgeting.

“We ask people to report,” Young said. “Not only for insurance reasons but because it shows the need when I bring this issue up in legislature.”

According to a presentation given by the sheriff’s department during the Jan. 29 meeting, there were 7,767 calls for service to the Peninsula detachment of the sheriff’s department, which includes Key Peninsula and Gig Harbor Peninsula. This is a 6 percent rise from 2016.

On average the sheriff’s department is receiving 21 calls per day from the peninsulas. The number of specific crimes on the peninsulas according to the department’s records were;

  • 191 crimes against persons in 2017, down from 201 in 2016. Crimes against persons include aggravated assault, murder, rape and sex crimes.
  • 1,298 crimes against property in 2017, down from 1,396 in 2016. Crimes against property include arson, burglary, check forgery, counterfeiting, identity theft, motor vehicle theft, other fraud, robbery, theft and vandalism.
  • 53 crimes against society in 2017, up from 29 crimes in 2016. Crimes against society include drug possession, drug sale and manufacturing, and prostitution.

“A lot of it is around drug issues,” Young said. “The opioid epidemic is hitting the Key Peninsula just as hard as anywhere else. Neighbors are frustrated that they can’t shut it down right away.”

The sheriff’s department is looking at hiring more entry-level patrol deputies, according to their website, and Young is working with the legislature to find more money in the budget to support sheriff deputies on the peninsulas. Wilder said this year is a “high retirement” year and he is hoping to find a way to hire more staff soon.

“I understand that it is frustrating,” Wilder said. “I live on the peninsula too. With the property taxes we pay, I understand that when you need police that one time, you expect to get what you pay for.”

But until money for more staffing is found, groups like Safe Street are hoping to organize residents to create neighborhood watch like groups to help local law enforcement.

RESIDENTS WORKING TOGETHER

Wanda Rochelle is the Operation Director for Safe Streets, a nonprofit organization that was formed in Tacoma to help Pierce County residents create neighborhood watch groups to curb crimes in their communities.

“We are heavy on empowering the community because there is not enough law enforcement to go around,” Rochelle said. “There never has been enough law enforcement. The is more the community can learn to do to be empowered, such as documenting and reporting, which are keys to being a safe, clean and thriving neighborhood.”

Safe Streets has youth programs, provide studies on how crime affect property values and also host many community meetings, such as the one on Jan. 29.

“We wanted to talk about challenges and concerns,” Rochelle said. “And one thing I can say is Key Peninsula residents show up. They really care about their community.”

Safe Streets provides connections, support and supplies to each of their neighborhood groups, along with training and event planning. For the Key Peninsula, neighborhoods interested in starting their own group can contact RoxAnne Simon at 253-272-6824 or info@safest.org. Simon is working with Rochelle, Young, Lindquist and Wilder to create future events and meetings between Key Peninsula residents and leaders to discuss the county’s law enforcement budget, resources for residents and how residents can organize to be the eyes and ears for the sheriff’s department.

“We are currently organizing more of these meetings soon,” Rochelle said. “We are just trying to figure out everyone’s schedules.”

Rochelle said for now, what she recommends is Key Peninsula residents choose to be more aware about their neighborhood.

“I tell people to drive different ways to and from home,” she said. “Challenge yourself to drive a different way and watch what’s going on in your neighborhood. Watch what cars belong there and the people that belong there. Then, when something doesn’t fit, you will know it.”

Rochelle said Safe Streets does not support confrontation, but having a unified community and making that known to others is the best way to protect each other from crime.

Young said he wasn’t shocked by any of the concerns brought up in the Jan. 29 meeting with the community, but he does want to pursue more meetings in the future to discuss the budgeting issues with residents and help organize more watch groups.

“It is a tough job for our deputies,” Young said. “I hear frustrations from our community, but I can tell you there is no one more frustrated than our deputies. They want to help but they have a lot of stuff going on. They keep very, very busy.”

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie

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