Business

Federal Way businesses confront crime with Safe City cameras

Wal Mart Supercenter management, Federal Way police, a police volunteer and Wal-Mart employees pose Thursday during a checking-giving presentation for the Safe City program. - Jacinda Howard, The Mirror
Wal Mart Supercenter management, Federal Way police, a police volunteer and Wal-Mart employees pose Thursday during a checking-giving presentation for the Safe City program.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard, The Mirror

Federal Way businesses are embracing Safe City Federal Way as they learn the benefits of using cameras to catch crooks.

Safe City is a nationwide program founded by the Target Corporation. It partners law enforcement, local businesses and community members in an effort to reduce crime by using cameras. Federal Way initiated the program in 2007. With help from a $100,000 grant from Target, 16 cameras were mounted downtown in areas overlooking places known to attract criminal activity. As the city prepares for its 35th and 36th cameras, Safe City Federal Way continues to be an asset to police.

“We constantly look for innovative ways to keep our community safe,” deputy police chief Andy Hwang said.

Live video feed from Safe City cameras is transmitted to the police headquarters, mall substation and squad cars. Police and volunteers monitor the video. The cameras can track criminals as they attempt to make a getaway, or scout a crime scene before an officer arrives on location.

“The whole idea is to get a 360 (degree) view,” said Mike Redling, a police volunteer who monitors the cameras twice a week.

Program growth

Within the past six months, Safe City has grown in popularity among the business crowd. Of the 170 Safe City members, 80 are now businesses, Cmdr. Chris Norman said. The members pay a fee that helps sustain the program. Two members, the Wal-Mart Foundation and DBM Contractors, are investing their own money to stretch the city’s Safe City camera pool from downtown to South 356th Street. They hope to see reduced crime in their location once the cameras are up.

Retail crime

On Thursday, the Wal-Mart Supercenter presented Federal Way police with a $5,000 check to purchase and mount the city’s 35th Safe City camera on 16th Avenue South and South 344th Street. The camera will monitor the streets as well as Wal-Mart’s parking lot.

Wal-Mart prides itself on safety, regional manager Eric York said. The store has more than 340 cameras located inside the building and in the parking lot. This camera and the Safe City program will help keep Wal-Mart’s employees, customers and the community safer, he said.

“This takes it to the next level,” York said. “This takes it into your community.”

Wal-Mart is especially interested in using the camera to combat organized retail crime. This is defined as theft of retail merchandise totaling at least $750, according to RCW 9A.56.350. First degree organized retail crime — the theft of at least $5,000 worth of retail goods — is a felony offense.

Thieves steal thousands of dollars worth of items, then sell the products on the streets or online, Norman said. They target multiple businesses and account for a degree of merchandise shrinkage.

“They’re really putting the hurt on a lot of retailers,” he said.

Federal Way retailers are combatting the problem cooperatively. Police use the Safe City cameras to upload video and photos of suspects. Businesses work together with police to identify and help catch the criminals.

For example, in November, a suspect was arrested for organized retail theft from Sears. Information about the theft and suspect was posted on the Safe City website, accessible by Safe City members. A loss prevention officer with Lowe’s Home Improvement read the post and contacted police. He recognized the suspect as having also committed organized retail theft at several Lowe’s locations, including Federal Way’s.

Commercial theft

Down near Pacific Highway South and South 356th Street, DBM Contractors, with financial assistance from United Rentals and Corliss Resources, will mount the city’s 36th Safe City camera on Dec. 21. The camera is an attempt to eliminate property theft. Despite several deterrents implemented over time, company vehicles, equipment and metal products are stolen with enough frequency to disrupt business, said Mick Martinson, a member of DBM’s management. This has taken place for more than a decade.

“We’ve been hit so many times and we’ve lost so much time and money dealing with these things,” he said.

The camera will be mounted on a pole to capture video of DBM’s 13 acres and the whole block. The camera will be accessible only by police and police volunteers, but will offer DBM a constant presence for a minimal cost.

“We’re kind of taking a proactive approach to it,” Martinson said.

Martinson was not aware of the Safe City program before speaking with police, but would now recommend other local businesses become members, he said.

“It’s really a minimal financial outlay for something that could save thousands,” he said.

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