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Transit center safety takes a hit

An off-duty Federal Way police officer is stationed at the Federal Way Transit Center on a regular basis. Sound Transit, which operates the transit center, recently hired two additional police officers to ensure citizens
An off-duty Federal Way police officer is stationed at the Federal Way Transit Center on a regular basis. Sound Transit, which operates the transit center, recently hired two additional police officers to ensure citizens' safety at the bus station.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

The shooting death of a woman at the Federal Way Transit Center has police and Sound Transit contemplating how to keep the public safe at the downtown gathering place.

When the transit center opened in February 2006, public safety there was a top priority among the city’s police. The station, located on South 317th Street and operated by Sound Transit, attracts patrons using Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and King County Metro Transit. In the two years since the station’s opening, security has progressively increased there.

The history of the transit station was drastically altered Jan. 18 when a dispute there led to the death of a 38-year-old woman from White Center. The woman was shot and died later at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The incident was the first of its kind at the transit center, said police spokeswoman Stacy Flores.

The transit center is monitored by Federal Way police, a guard hired by Sound Transit and a branch of the King County Sheriff’s Office. Primary security functions are performed by the hired guard. This person is unarmed and does not have the authority to restrain anyone, but is always on duty at the transit center, Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray said.

Closed-circuit television cameras in the parking garage, bus bays and transit aisles assist the guard in keeping the peace, he said.

“They have cameras on every post,” Federal Way resident and transit customer Juan Ortega IV said.

Ortega, 32, feels people are unpredictable and an incident such as the shooting that occurred at the Federal Way Transit Center could happen anywhere, he said. He visits the station often and feels safe in doing so, he said.

Places such as the transit center attract large crowds at various hours of the day and night. To assist the security guard, additional protection is provided by King County Metro Transit police, a division of the King County Sheriff’s Office, and the Federal Way police.

Transit police monitor areas serviced by King County Metro Transit buses, such as transit centers, bus stops and park-and-rides, spokeswoman Linda Thielke said. They do not have a permanent presence at the Federal Way Transit Center, she said.

“When you have a bus system, the problems can be very mobile,” Thielke said.

On-duty Federal Way officers patrol the area during their shifts, Flores said. Since February 2007, one full-time off-duty Federal Way police officer has also been stationed at the transit center, Gray said. This person is an officer with the authority to make arrests and is hired by Sound Transit, he said.

“I am always here and I always see that blue (police) car,” said E’yn Jones, 21, a Tacoma resident and transit user.

Before Jan. 18, the most significant problems occurring at the center involved loitering, graffiti and vandalism, Gray said. The off-duty Federal Way police officer was hired to assist in reducing these crimes, he said.

“We track what’s going on at all of our garages, and we saw we needed some help down there,” Gray said.

Since the shooting, two additional off-duty officers have been hired, he said. They are present at the transit center nine hours a day, four days a week, Gray said. The officers will remain on patrol at the location until late April, he said.

The need for the extra officers was apparent before the shooting due to excessive loitering, but following the incident, Sound Transit plans to discuss making their presence permanent, Gray said.

“This is a horrible incident that happened down there,” he said. “We are doing everything we can to make our facilities as safe as we can.”

Federal Way resident Qadash Yisrael, 19, rides the buses at the transit station often. Following the shooting, she tried to avoid the location, but now, two weeks later, she has continued her transit routine.

Yisrael does not feel protected at the transit center, but is unsure what Sound Transit or the Federal Way police can do to instill a sense of safety, she said.

Federal Way resident Chris Carper, 34, feels safe at the Federal Way Transit Center, but recognizes that safety can be defined in varying degrees, and what does not feel threatening to him may alarm others, he said.

With public safety in mind, Sound Transit and the Federal Way police will continue to maintain a working relationship to ensure the protection of everyone at the transit center, Flores said.

“We want to make sure we give the community that sense of comfort,” she said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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Patrons at the Federal Way Transit Center may contact the on-site security guard for non-emergency situations, such as graffiti or vehicle prowlers, said police spokeswoman Stacy Flores. One may call the police station at (253) 835-6700 for any other concerns not related to a crime in progress. In case of an emergency, the on-site police officer should be contacted or 911 should be called, Flores said.

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