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Top officers support putting police downtown
"The city's three top cops say they support a Federal Way City Council proposal to move the police station downtown as part of a complex that would include the municipal court and City Hall.They say a municipal complex could show developers that the city is serious about transforming the downtown, increased accessibility for the public and the possible cost savings by combining common needs, like reception areas.I think that's a real benefit, said police Deputy Director Brian Wilson, of the council's desire to study combining the three city services in one building. It's one of the better options. I am very much in favor of the council's direction.Those benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks - higher development costs, increased difficulty maneuvering the streets around the station and more criminals in the downtown, said Wilson and the others.Congestion could slow police officers' deployment into the field, Police Deputy Director Tom Chaney admits. Wilson agrees that depending on the municipal complex's location in the downtown, traffic can be an issue. But Police Chief Ron Wood said that shouldn't be a big problem.Once they're away from that traffic and activity, I think that becomes less of a factor throughout the shift, Wood said, because officers respond from their patrol routes, not the station.Not everyone agrees that putting police downtown is a good one. In a June 28 Letter to the Editor, Federal Way resident Ian Canaan warns that if police and the court are located in the downtown we will actually be bringing criminals from throughout the city into the downtown area.That means people who come to City Hall to pay a bill or obtain a building permit might encounter drug dealers, spouse abusers and convicted felons, he said. Canaan is a lieutenant with Federal Way police but wrote his letter as a citizen, not as a police representative. He didn't return phone calls for comment.By their very nature, police departments and court facilities attract a less than desirable clientele, he said in the letter.Canaan, who did not return phone calls on Tuesday, also asserted in his letter that criminals will be released from the police department to do as they please in the downtown.Chaney agrees the police station and municipal court may draw people to the downtown who you may or may not want in the immediate area. But he said accused felons would not be released into the downtown.We might bring a felon to be interviewed but we would not turn them loose right there, Chaney said.Arraignments for inmates held at the King County Regional Justice Center in Kent are conducted via video, said Sandra Warter, Federal Way Municipal Court administrator. Inmates with mental or medical problems, who are held in Seattle, would be transported by Federal Way officers to the municipal court for arraignment, but would always be returned to Seattle afterward.Police officers also would sometimes transport people who are still in law officers' custody and going through the pre-trial phase that determines whether to proceed with an actual trial. These typically are driving under the influence and domestic violence suspects. Those suspects would be returned to the jail afterward and not released here, Warter said.People who appeared in the court would be those accused of misdemeanor offenses, such as domestic abuse, shoplifting, DUI and other traffic infractions. You could always say there's a risk, Warter said. They're not felonies but they're serious crimes. I wouldn't want to say there's no risk, but it's minimal. I think the people who are serious criminals are being returned to the jail facilities.On the flip side, Chaney said a downtown location could make city center merchants feel safer.They feel more protected, he said. They see more officers coming and going. Wood says he respects Canaan's opinion but disagrees that a police station in the city center would dramatically increase the number of criminals, or crime, in the downtown. Criminals would more likely be drawn to the shopping and other activity downtown.Given the mobility of today's society, people who are out of custody until their court date would be just as likely to head downtown now as they would in the future if the municipal court and police station are moved there, he said. The current court and police station is what, roughly 1.6 miles from the downtown? Wood asked. I don't think they will be at a greater risk of going downtown than if (they're) one and a half miles away."