News

Community policing on steroids

By JACINDA HOWARD

The Mirror

Federal Way police may soon receive extra assistance in capturing criminals.

It will come in the form of increased communication and technology. Both are part of a community-based initiative called the Safe City Program.

Once the program is in place, Federal Way will be the first city in the state and Pacific Northwest to adopt it.

“It’s community policing on steroids,” said police officer Shawn Swanson, who first pitched the idea of applying the program in Federal Way.

The program employs three steps. First, a safe zone is defined. This is the area in which substantial efforts to decrease crime take place.

Second, partnerships between businesses, residents and law enforcement are nurtured to create effective lines of communication. Third, technology that assists police in catching criminals is placed and utilized within the safe zone.

Target Corporation’s Target and Blue program provides a grant to cities that show an interest in decreasing crime by adopting the Safe City Program.

The amount of the grant depends on a city’s individual needs. Law enforcement determines what is needed to keep people safe while they are in the safe zone, and Target grants money to cover technological and administrative costs, said Ed Fadler, Federal Way police lieutenant.

Target promises to provide the funding as long as there’s assurance that other businesses in the area will help sustain the program.

Business partners benefiting from the increased safety near their establishments are expected to contribute toward the program, Fadler said. The Safe City Program was established about two years, according to the Target Corporation Web site.

Safe zone

The Federal Way Police Department concentrated most of its efforts in defining a safe zone and communicating among businesses within the zone.

City police identified the safe zone as South 310th Street to South 324th Street and Interstate 5 to 11th Avenue South. They refer to this area as the “downtown core.”

Swanson also began holding a loss prevention meeting with businesses in the city, including the downtown core. The meetings began in late 2006 and occur once a month. They are a way for stores to share information about shoplifters or other public safety issues. The meetings help police determine who is committing crimes in the zone and how often they do it. The meetings also allow store owners to pass on photographs of criminals they have noticed in their businesses, Swanson said.

More than 50 Federal Way businesses, including Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Borders, Macy’s and Sears, have shown an interest in participating in the Safe City Program. Swanson has also approached all the business owners within the downtown core and has received overwhelming support for the program, he said.

As for the technological side of the program, the police department plans to utilize 16 to 25 wireless cameras in the parking lots of its partnered businesses, Swanson said. The cameras will be used to stop serious crimes like assaults and assist in catching graffiti artists, Fadler said.

The devices will employ technology the city currently has in place by utilizing the free wireless network provided in the downtown core, Fadler said. Being able to see the crime scene without being present will make it easier to direct police to the scene, provide a precise description of the criminal and send assistance to anyone who may have been injured, Fadler said.

Before the technology can be put into place, a few necessary steps must be taken. Swanson plans to gather letters of approval from the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce and Federal Way City Council as a way to show business owners the city supports the program.

Partnerships with businesses that would benefit from and be willing to contribute funding to the Safe City Program must continue to be established. Also, a business plan that outlines how the program will be operated administratively must be completed, Fadler said.

Once these steps are finished, the department can move on to other steps and eventually approach the Target Corporation with a desired amount for the grant.

A lot of work must still be completed before the program is introduced in its full capacity, but the police department is confident crime will decrease in the downtown core — and Federal Way will be a safer city.

The police department is excited to be able to say Federal Way is ahead of its time in adopting the Safe City Program.

“We have an opportunity to shine,” Swanson said. “We will be able to offer something nobody else can.”

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

Reducing crime

What has become an effort to decrease crime in Federal Way originally started as a police request for a single electronic device.

Officer Shawn Swanson approached Target early last year requesting a grant for the Federal Way Police Department to acquire a device that would allow him to transfer police material on VHS videotapes to DVDs.

A local Target employee suggested Swanson think bigger and apply for the Target and Blue grant. Swanson did just that, and in February 2006, he approached the Target Corporation in a request to make Federal Way the next city to implement the Safe City Program, Swanson said.

In February 2007, the corporation promised to fund the program in this city, he said. Similar Safe City programs exist in Minneapolis, Minn., Boston, Mass., and Tucson, Ariz.

Auto theft in Minneapolis’ safe zone is down 20 percent, and in Boston’s safe zone, burglary dropped 16 percent, according to the Target and Blue program Web site.

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