Organized crime has been on the rise in Federal Way in recent years in the form of illegal marijuana grow operations in local neighborhoods.
Federal Way Police Cmdr. Steve Arbuthnot said the issue is a national problem with roots starting to grow in Federal Way.
Arbuthnot said police first started to notice an increase in grow operations in Federal Way in early 2017 and since then have conducted 39 raids.
The first raid happened in May 2017, with two arrests and the seizure of 756 marijuana plants. Police raided a residence that was within 400 feet of Twin Lakes Elementary, 4400 SW 320th St.
Arbuthnot said the police department is thankful for residents who call in tips regarding grow houses.
“If something doesn’t look right to you as a citizen, it’s probably not,” he said. “And it’s not annoying or frustrating to get those calls. That’s how we get a lot of information we need to make those arrests.”
Arbuthnot said this is the type of partnership the police department wants with the city.
One of the citizens who called in tips, George Adams, said in a letter to the Mirror that he was tired of having an illegal grow operation in his neighborhood, so he put together a neighborhood watch to help battle it.
“The property values of my home and my neighbors’ homes are at stake,” he said. “I’ve lived here for over 30 years, and I am not going to take it anymore. I’m willing to fight for my neighbors and my neighborhood.”
Adams said he and his neighbors first noticed something was off at the grow houses because he rarely saw the occupants. They also noticed an intense skunk-like smell once a month.
Adams and his fellow neighbors started calling in tips to the police.
“We all began to realize that something wasn’t right at about the same time,” he said.
Earlier this month, police conducted raids on six separate locations in Federal Way neighborhoods — including near Adams’ home. Police seized thousands of marijuana plants and arrested 10 people.
The raids on June 5 took place in the 31900 block of Second Lane Southwest; 700 block of Southwest 327th Street; 31600 block of 37th Avenue Southwest; 31400 block of 36th Avenue Southwest and the 31200 block of 36th Avenue Southwest.
After the raids, Adams was thankful for police response, but frustrated that the grow operators in his neighborhood weren’t charged and instead moved back into the homes.
Arbuthnot said legally police cannot stop the owners from moving back into the homes despite their arrests for illegal growing.
“It’s the same as if you committed a crime in your car,” he said, “We can arrest you, but we can’t take your car. We arrested these people for growing illegally, but we can’t take their house, they own it.”
Arbuthnot said this happens frequently because of the evidence needed to actually prosecute someone for organized criminal activity.
“When you talk about organized crime, it can be anywhere from four childhood friends that decide they want to get into trafficking and as long as they’re working in a common theme, that’s organized crime,” Arbuthnot said.
While organized crime is easier to define, it’s more difficult to actually prosecute.
“[Prosecutors] want to see more of a hierarchy…to be able to prosecute it as organized crime even though it may technically fit the definition,” he said.
Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell said illegal grow operations will not be tolerated in Federal Way, and he promised each of the locations would be taken down.