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Cameras in city's core can catch crooks

Federal Way police are one step closer to using surveillance cameras to catch criminals in the act as they commit crime in the downtown core.

Police have gathered support for the Safe City program and plan to submit a grant proposal to the Target Corporation, which encourages and partially funds the program, by the end of this month, Lt. Mark Benson said.

If Target Corporation approves the proposal, Federal Way will become the first city in Washington state to become a Safe City, Target spokeswoman Ana Williams said.

Benson anticipates knowing the results of the proposal in October.

The Safe City program embraces technology as well as communication and partnerships between a city's police force, business owners and residents as a way to decrease crime and increase shoppers' safety in the city's core.

"Our main goal is to help the local law enforcement create community relationships," Williams said.

Safe City results

The program began in Minneapolis three years ago. To date, police there have credited approximately 800 arrests to the assistance of the Safe City program, Williams said.

Nationwide, cities including Springfield, Va., Boston and Houston have put Safe City into action. Auto theft in Minneapolis' Safe City zone has decreased by 20 percent since the program was enacted, and in Boston, burglary has dropped by 16 percent, according to the Target Corporation.

Police hope to replicate the program's past success with the use of surveillance cameras in Federal Way.

The Target Corporation helps fund Safe City, but ultimately local law enforcement creates its structure and determines how to carry out and monitor the program, Williams said. Safe City operates differently in each city that puts it to use, she said.

Expenses:

The biggest up-front expense predicted for Federal Way's program is the purchase of 25 surveillance cameras, said Tom Pierson, Federal Way Chamber of Commerce CEO.

The cameras — 22 of them which will be located in downtown businesses' parking lots — will provide police with a live view of the area. Police will be able to access the cameras from their vehicles, said police officer Shawn Swanson, who first pitched the idea of applying the program in Federal Way.

Criminal activity could be viewed live, helping police to identify criminals, evaluate a crime scene and dispatch medical assistance to anyone who was injured, Swanson said.

Before the cameras can begin scouting for criminals, the funds necessary to purchase them must be acquired.

Swanson proposed Federal Way implement the Safe City program in February 2006. By May 2007, he and Lt. Ed Fadler were working to gather support from the business community in an effort to make the program sustainable.

"The thing Target likes about our proposal is we have a really good relationship with the business community," Benson said.

Partners

On Aug. 29, the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce board of directors unanimously decided to support the police department in its Safe City efforts, Pierson said. The chamber will create a nonprofit organization, with a board of directors, to assist the police in jointly operating Safe City, he said. The board will manage the financial aspects of the program, he said.

If the proposal is approved, the Target Corporation will provide some funding for technological and administrative needs, Fadler said.

Other sources will need to be sought, Pierson said. He hopes at least 100 businesses will join in the efforts to make Federal Way's downtown core a safer place to navigate and shop. Businesses that wish to be Safe City members will be charged an annual membership fee of about $175, Pierson said.

Furthermore, Pierson wishes to see at least four businesses step forward as sponsors of the program. Safe City will not be successful without the assistance and cooperation of local businesses, he said.

"We need that income stream to help sustain the program," Pierson said.

The Chamber suspects Safe City will benefit Federal Way by decreasing crime and encouraging more residents to shop locally, Pierson said. The cameras may also help persuade new businesses to open operations in the city, he said.

"We see this as a way to grow the local economy," Pierson said.

Public reaction

Many businesses and the police are supportive of Safe City, but it might take some time for residents and shoppers to get used to being on camera. The program was not created to keep tabs on people, Fadler said. The cameras will only be accessed by police as a means to catch crooks, he said.

With technology such as Google Earth and Google Maps' street view, anyone going into public faces the chances of being caught on camera, Pierson said.

"I think the benefit of public safety will exceed the concerns over privacy," he said.

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

Boundaries:

Of the 25 cameras the police hope to purchase, 22 will be placed in Federal Way's downtown core. This area's boundaries have been defined by the police department as South 324th Street to the south, South 310th Street to the north, Pacific Highway South to the west and Interstate 5 to the east. Three cameras will be placed between South 330th Street and South 336th Street, as this tends to be an area where gang violence and prostitution can be seen, Lt. Mark Benson said.

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