Federal Way’s problems did not arrive on the doorstep overnight | Livingston

Federal Way’s streets and main pedestrian walkways have become extensions of the mean streets we see elsewhere — littered, sketchy, and avenues of the downtrodden. Our daily paths are challenged visually, emotionally and physically as we navigate our community. Change is hard, but to improve our city, we must do better.

City councils across America are dealing with a general coarsening of behavior, and crime seems to be the number one issue. Local news and social media have done their part to inform us of every incident and personal slight that elevates awareness and increases our fears as well as suspicion toward one another.

Our society’s current style of political discourse is to excoriate ideas expressed by others or your opponent personally, to assure hypocrisy reigns and holds progress in check. Federal Way’s history of electing leaders with small-think ideologies chosen by an electorate with a “law enforcement first and foremost” mentality flavored by anti-government tendencies has stymied our growth.

Crime is a concern, but rarely discussed is a better path forward using deterrence through building an economically balanced and education-schools focused community. Crime will reduce naturally by focusing on elements that build community value, reduce poverty, and increase social connectedness.

Our city is dealing with drug abuse, mental health issues resulting from addiction, homelessness, guns, and crime. We have a vocal public clamoring to make these problems go away.

Yes, Federal Way felt like it experienced a major crime wave in 2021, but crime increased only 2 percent compared to 2020. The increase may be small, the trend is in the wrong direction and detracts from our potential.

Our police force of 137 officers (number does not include the department’s recently authorized expansion to 150), in 2021 dealt with 12 homicides (11 murder/non-negligent manslaughters and 1 negligent manslaughter), 743 incidents of domestic violence, 1,030 assaults (aggravated, simple assault, and intimidation), 9 drug arrests, 115 driving under the influence (DUI) arrests, 792 burglaries (residential and commercial), 168 robberies, 947 vehicle thefts, 1,162 acts of vandalism, an increase in gang activity and numerous reported incidents.

“Are we making the right community building choices” and “are we doing enough to deter crime” are fair to questions to ask. Crime in our community exposes us to the reality that some people living here have no desire to do anything but behave and operate in ways that are detrimental to the greater good — knowingly or unknowingly.

Due to the pandemic, the recent years of 2020 and 2021 have been two of the most stressful years most of us have ever experienced. The COVID-19 death total for our city to date is 195. COVID-19’s emotional and economic toll will linger for many years.

Crime for some was a “go-to response” for making ends meet. Economic stress and boredom are catalysts for testing criminal waters, but once the criminal behavior starts, crime often becomes addictive. The “you can’t catch me” entitlement attitude is also a factor, unleashed by clogged court systems, prisons that had to delay accepting prisoners due to COVID-19 outbreaks, and society clamoring for police reform due to situational overreach.

Our employment stability and economy were totally upended during the pandemic. Our country lost an unprecedented 22.1 million jobs between January 2020 and April 2020 for an unemployment rate of 14.8 percent at the job-loss peak. The nation’s current unemployment rate, as of February this year, is 4.3 percent and for Washington state, it is 3.6 percent.

The current employment statistics tell a positive story but our psyches are still feeling the negative effects of fear, changes in the work environment driven by COVID-19, and isolation. The story of unemployment also is one of imbalance. Minorities and the least educated are struggling to gain traction in finding suitable work.

Just as we are starting to feel like we have some post-pandemic breathing room, Russia decides to invade a peaceful Ukraine, rekindling its need for empire through force. Authoritarianism is a strong political trend stoking conspiracy, corrupting democratic ideals and forcing us all to take sides.

World events and inflation are affecting us locally. Global economics, production supply-chains, and market realignments will add to these interruptions due to sanctions placed on Russia. Regardless, the challenge for all of us is to continue finding the positives for ourselves and our community.

For change to happen and be positive, we need to understand the legal constraints within state law and political attitudes preventing our state from having adequate support to deal with mental health, addiction, gun crimes, early childhood education and family support for small children. The problems did not arrive at Federal Way’s doorstep overnight and solutions will not be easy or direct.

Federal Way has to reverse several decades of limited public investment that has not been impactful and low-end private sector development emanating from the city’s small-think, pro-privatization minimal partnership philosophy. The private sector knows our demographics and has invested accordingly. The investors that have built here in the past few decades have developed affordable housing complexes requiring years of tax breaks to support their efforts, as well as big-box and specialty chain-stores designed to support the needs of a stressed working-class community.

Local leadership is clearly focused on crime but most of the time their thinking is upside-down. The best governmental leaders understand that building and growing a better city requires forward thinking and a competitive attitude.

Focusing on crime is a necessity, but the best cities also know to focus on human needs, community and business networking, education, investing capital strategically in human services and cultural infrastructure, and the toughest challenge of all — getting buy-in from the community itself. Setting high standards and exceeding expectations is always the goal.

Our city is doing as well as it can using current resources and a small-think leadership philosophy. The results are that we have no cohesive team vision for becoming a highly-valued and desired live-play-work city.

We need to challenge ourselves to think of what it means to be a valued city. Building a valued city requires governing and leading with a “we have to do better” competition mentality — focused on education, business, arts, and culture with an equity and access to all mindset. Creating a balanced mix of employment opportunities, economic resources and quality of life capabilities will begin assuring a better future for our city.


Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com.