On 15th Street SE in Puyallup sits a dilapidated gray house that had a history of hosting criminal activity round the clock, causing neighbors to become fearful — some to even contemplate relocating their families.
Puyallup police had visited the home more than 75 times through out the course of a year. Rob and Megan Gallwas, neighbors to the problem house, were growing tired of the constant criminal activity. After a couple of their neighbors had their homes broken into, the young family finally had enough.
Before the problem house was shut down, the Gallwas began to look at moving.
“We ended up just putting trust into the system — that it was going to work out,” Megan said last week during the National Night Out event in their neighborhood. “It’s a work in progress.”
The couple took it upon themselves to start a block watch for their neighborhood, a program where the Puyallup Police Department encourages neighbors to look after one another and to report suspicious activity to the police and share the information with each other.
“When (the crime) was still going on, we decided we needed to get involved ourselves,” Megan said. “Our block watch has been going on since March. It’s still new and fresh, but so far there are 16 houses involved.”
When the questionable activity began at the problem house about a year ago, Rob and Megan became increasingly concerned for their 5-year-old son, Brennan, and 2-year-old daughter Emerson, who would often play outside supervised.
“We wanted to make sure they were safe,” Rob said. “We couldn’t have them playing outside — even in the backyard — with that kind of activity going on.”
John Waller, the department’s Problem Oriented Policing (POP) officer, said the night before officers did their final raid of the problem house, officers and staff sat down with the concerned residents on the street to answer questions. What the residents didn’t know was the next morning at 4 a.m. officers were going to serve a narcotics warrant at the home.
Since Waller started working for the department in March of 2014, several cases ended up back at the problem house.
“There were identify theft and forgery cases that we traced back to people who were associated with the house,” he said.
While the problem house was a headache for police and neighbors, all agreed that in the end there was something good that came from it.
“POP, code enforcement, patrol — everyone came together,” Waller said. “It was one of the best cases we had worked as a team.”
“Interaction before was really limited,” said neighbor Debbie Kortman. “That house has really brought people together.”
The Gallwas agreed that the block watch is another deterrent to crime, even though the problem house is boarded up and the owners are no longer allowed to live on the premises.
Still, Puyallup police officers come by at least once a day to check on the home.
That is the intent of neighborhood block watches: To get people to get out and get to know each other, Puyallup Police Chief Bryan Jeter said.
“They get to be our eyes and ears,” he said. “It’s a force multiplier for us. It’s important to know your neighbors.”
To start a block watch in your neighborhood, contact crime prevention coordinator Lisa Isaacs at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253-841-5531.