News

Smile, thieves: You're on city's cameras

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

Onlookers watched Tuesday as a man prowled the Macy’s parking lot — peering into vehicles’ windows — before opening the door of a parked truck and rummaging through its contents.

The man was caught on camera as part of a staged demonstration that illustrated how 25 closed-circuit cameras will be used to catch criminals in Federal Way’s downtown core. The cameras are part of a program called Safe City.

The scene was part of the Safe City kick-off event at The Commons at Federal Way. Here, the police recruit who portrayed the thief was brought into the mall carrying a $100,000 check in the city’s name from the Target Corporation. The money will be used to launch the city’s Safe City program.

The program is an initiative created and partially funded by the Target Corporation. It has taken root in a handful of cities across the country and is centered on community policing, technology and partnerships among police, business owners and residents. It is nearly two years in the making in Federal Way, where the city, police and Chamber of Commerce are collaborating on the program.

Decreasing crime in the city’s core and increasing shoppers’ safety is the goal of Safe City, said Tom Pierson, CEO of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce.

“This is a very strong message to the bad guy: Don’t come into Federal Way,” Mayor Mike Park said.

Since initial interest in the program arose, the partners have worked toward securing grant money from Target and finding ways to sustain the program. A proposal was sent to Target in September, and by the end of October the city, police and Chamber had learned that Federal Way will officially become a Safe City.

Positive response

Target is impressed that Federal Way has been able to unite its business and private sectors toward the common goal of public safety through the implementation of Safe City, said Lt. Mark Bensen, project coordinator.

The company is showing a significant interest in Federal Way before the city has even implemented the program, he said.

“They actually want to use us as a model for future Safe Cities,” he said.

The program is expected to be in place by the end of 2008, Pierson said. The total start-up costs for the endeavor are predicted to be approximately $360,000, city spokeswoman Linda Farmer said. The city will contribute $185,000 in utility tax revenues, she said.

Additionally, local businesses are expected to contribute about $40,000, she said. Weyerhaeuser has already donated $5,000 to the program, Bensen said. The remaining $35,000 has not yet been accounted for, but the program will proceed without it if need be, Farmer said.

The majority of the start-up costs will be applied to the purchase and operation of the 25 surveillance cameras, Bensen said. These will cost approximately $333,000, he said.

The cameras will be placed in the parking lots of downtown businesses with Interstate 5 and Pacific Highway South to the east and west, and South 320th Street and South 324th Street to the north and south serving as Safe City zone boundaries, Bensen said.

Live footage of the lots and surrounding areas will be available to patrol officers through the use of laptop computers in their vehicles. The cameras will allow police to catch criminals in the act as well as monitor a crime scene and call for back-up or emergency care before arriving on location.

“(Safe City) is going to contribute to a strong feeling of safety in our community,” City Council member Jeanne Burbidge said.

To sustain the program, the city will spend an annual $37,500, also garnered from utility tax revenue, Farmer said. The Chamber aims to form a nonprofit affiliate and charge businesses annual membership fees as another way to help sustain Safe City, Pierson said.

Businesses that become Safe City members will receive Safe City window decals, which Pierson believes will detract criminals from illegal activities near the establishment, he said. The organizations will get other benefits, similar to those received by members of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, Pierson said.

Pierson continues to gather support form the city’s business sector and said the response to Safe City has been a positive one.

“The more people we can get involved, the better,” he said.

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

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Check it out

•To watch a live YouTube video of the Safe City kick-off event camera demonstration, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcFWRPbsWoQ

•To learn more about the Target Corporation’s Safe City program, visit http://pressroom.target.com/pr/news/community/other-community/safe-city.aspx.

History of Safe City:

The Safe City program began in Minneapolis three years ago. The Target Corporation helps fund Safe City, but ultimately local law enforcement create its structure and determine how to carry out the program, Target Corporation spokeswoman Ana Williams said. Nationwide, cities including Springfield, Va, Boston and Houston have put Safe City into action.

To date, police in Minneapolis have credited approximately 800 arrests to the assistance of the Safe City program, Williams said. Auto theft in the Safe City zone has decreased by 20 percent since the program was enacted, according to the Target Corporation Web site http://pressroom.target.com/pr/news/community/other-community/safe-city.aspx. In Boston, burglary in the Safe City zone has dropped by 16 percent after the programs initiation, according to the same Web site.

Federal Way police hope to replicate the success the program has had in other cities. Nearly one quarter, 24 percent, of all auto theft, vehicle prowl and assault occur in the downtown core, Bensen said. Safe City will deter that crime, he said.

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