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Midnight walk in Federal Way? Statistics suggest downtown is safe, even at night

To learn more about the midnight walking club in Federal Way, contact Jeff Kendig at midnightstrollfederalway@gmail.com. - Neal McNamara, The Mirror
To learn more about the midnight walking club in Federal Way, contact Jeff Kendig at midnightstrollfederalway@gmail.com.
— image credit: Neal McNamara, The Mirror

How likely is it that you would get shot, stabbed, beaten, robbed, carjacked or otherwise molested if you were to take a walk around The Commons Mall late at night — say, between midnight and 2 a.m.?

What dangers lurk in that shadowy space between Sears and the shoe outlet? What weirdo is waiting to strike from behind Panera Bread? Who is that Lothario loitering outside of the movie theater feeling the need to commit violence after seeing “No Strings Attached?”

The mall at night can seem scary. There are lots of dark places, vacant expanses and unreliable overhead lighting. Despite these factors, Federal Way police statistics show that the area around the mall is hardly a hotbed of criminal activity.

Several weeks ago, Federal Way resident Jeff Kendig started a midnight walking club that traversed the area around the mall. On the first night, Kendig and Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest did the walk and came away unharmed. Subsequent walks, Kendig reported, attracted more people and even a canine.

The idea, Kendig said, is to get people out in the community late at night, partly to fight perceptions about a lack of safety. However, in response to publicity of Kendig’s effort, some expressed dismay.

A man named Larry Trotter sent this letter to the editor, titled “playing a fool’s game,” after a story about Kendig appeared in this newspaper:

“Mayor Skip Priest exibited (sic) an amazing lack of judgment by going for a walk in a dark and deserted portion of Federal Way at midnight, and Jeff Kendig showed even worse judgement by doing it alone. Good P.R. I guess, but having the mayor mugged at midnight in his own city would have made national news. I can only hope that one of the two were bright enough to have a friend in their pocket.” Trotter did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Is the mall really that dangerous of an area?

Stats show little crime

A search of violent crimes in the Federal Way police district that includes the entire mall (excluding the intersection of 320th Street and Pacific Highway) over a six-month period reveals just three incidents between Aug. 1, 2010, and Jan. 31, 2011. Only one of these incidents took place late at night.

Two of these incidents were classified as sex crimes. One incident took place at 9 a.m. Jan. 20 at 322nd Street and 23rd Avenue South, on the east side of Target. Another incident occurred shortly after 9 p.m. Aug. 19 last year at 324th Street and 20th Way South. The other incident was a robbery that took place around 4:30 p.m. Sept. 6 last year inside the mall.

A number of other crimes took place near the mall, but none that are classified by police as “violent.” These include:

• Two domestic disputes; one on Aug. 15, the other on Sept. 20, both shortly after midnight

• Three vehicle thefts, on Dec. 15, Dec. 23 and Jan. 25, all of which occurred around midnight.

• Two larcenies on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31, both within an hour and a half of midnight.

• There was also a traffic offense on Nov. 15, and two incidents listed as “miscellaneous non-criminal” on Aug. 14 and Jan. 2.

The area around the mall is also guarded. There are police surveillance cameras, and the mall security force patrols late at night.

Be alert, don’t get hurt

James Clark is a psychologist in Rochester, N.Y., who specializes in criminal behavior. He formerly headed the Monroe County mental health department, and worked with criminals residing in the county jail. In his career, he’s observed what motivates criminal activity — he did not mention cruising for late-night walkers as one.

“No. 1, (criminals) are not particularly courageous. No. 2, they’re not going to want to go through a whole lot of trouble” to commit a crime, Clark said. “The lazy, simple, easy way tends to be common course of action.”

If one is worried about being attacked by a criminal, he said, there are a couple of ways to let them know that you are not a victim waiting to happen. First, be alert; carry yourself with confidence and purpose; and don’t make obvious appeals to victimhood, like flashing cash or distracting your senses with a portable music player.

“It’s situational awareness combined with the decision to be responsible for one’s self,” he said.

In fact, Clark said he often takes late-night walks around his own neighborhood. The biggest dangers he has encountered came from motorists, especially bad drivers, drunks and mischievous teens.

One of Kendig’s motives for starting his walking club, he said, is to combat the negative perceptions garnered by violent incidents at the Federal Way Transit Center, just a block away from the mall.

One factor that might lead people to perceive the area around the mall as dangerous is what Sue Frantz, head of the psychology department at Highline Community College, called the “availability heuristic.”

“That’s when we make decisions based on how available information is in our memory,” Frantz wrote in an email. “We can easily recall instances when people have been attacked at night — not just in reality, but also on television where the world is very violent. So we assume that violence is likely to occur at night.”

Clark said that humans tend to have a primal fear of the dark and strangers. He also said that violent crime statistics have dropped over the past couple of decades. Still, for a long time there was a “media drumbeat” of reports of violent crime.

“There’s a little bit of societal misinformation about the level of risk people have,” Clark said.

Check it out

To learn about the midnight walking club in Federal Way, contact Jeff Kendig at midnightstrollfederalway@gmail.com.

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