Pairs of friends walk up and down their streets, looking for graffiti, litter, signs of drug use and more as a way to protect their neighborhoods. These walks are a part of the nightly patrol performed by the Key Peninsula Citizens Against Crimes.
On Thursday, Aug. 17, during their regular meeting with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, the Key Peninsula Citizens Against Crimes group celebrated 30 years of informing residents and patrolling neighborhoods.
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“The idea for these meetings is to share ideas and information with deputies,” sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Ward said. “But we also want to get the information out there to the people in this organization. They are the eyes for us.”
The Citizens Against Crime group is a “non-interfering” patrol and neighborhood watch group started by a group of residents in 1988 after multiple Peninsula School District buses and classroom computers were vandalized at Key Peninsula Middle School.
“People were just getting tired of crime,” Anne White, an original group member, said. “But we are eyes only. We have helped bust some theft suspects before.”
White, Hugh McMillan and Jim O’Roke were the three original members, and now the organization has almost 40 members who come to meetings once a month to discuss crime trends with the sheriff’s department and also help by providing tips for ongoing cases.
The group is working to become a part of Safe Streets, a grassroots organization formed in Tacoma in 1989 that created neighborhood-watch groups and citizen-action groups.
“Safe Streets was established as a grassroots ‘call to action’ to take back the streets of Tacoma,” the organization’s website stated. “In the past 29 years, Safe Streets has provided leadership skills, mobilization services and prevention education in the community and presently address the immediate concerns of Pierce County through these program areas.”
In an area like the Key Peninsula, where there is a shortage of police, Ward said residents make a big difference in helping track down suspects and keeping streets safe.
“A couple of meetings ago, deputies were looking for a suspect and (Citizens Against Crime) members told us about a suspicious car that matched the description of the one we were looking for,” Ward said. “A member had remembered the license plate number, and we were able to track the guy down.”
Although crime overall has seen a small drop recently, property-crime rates have risen on the Key Peninsula.
At any time, there are only one or two sheriff’s deputies covering the Key Peninsula, meaning that people can wait up to 30 minutes before law enforcement can arrive to the scene.
Sheriff’s Lt. Rusty Wilder said that 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. Because of the staff shortage, scheduling and other interdepartmental issues, that’s usually all he’s able to schedule.
“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.”
When it comes to crimes that are not immediate emergencies, such as someone coming home to a vandalized car, the sheriff’s department may ask the resident to make a report instead of having a deputy drive to the scene.
Citizens Against Crime President Cindy Warden, who’s been a member with her husband for over 10 years, said by doing regular walking patrols through their neighborhood and watching out for their neighbors, they have been able to help the police catch things they may miss.
“Citizens make a big difference,” Warden said. “We are not afraid to jump in.”
Warden was a member of Safe Streets in Tillicum before she moved to the peninsula. She said she saw what a difference it made for her neighborhood in the early 2000s.
“We used to sit out and watch the nearby grocery store,” Warden said. “We’d catch people all the time.”
Warden, White, Ward and other members hope to see the group thrive for another few decades. Anyone interested in becoming a member of the group or any Safe Streets group can go to www.safest.org to learn more.