Vandalized mailbox illustrates a bigger problem in FW | Livingston

Public safety issues and crime statistics show us that criminal behavior is consistently present in Federal Way and elsewhere.

It was a Sunday morning discovery — my pedestal mailbox face was down in the street. That box provides mail service to nine households. No clear evidence of a vehicle strike, or time of night when the box was separated from its moorings, but there it was, 30 feet from its foundation.

The bad news was emailed to the HOA president to get its replacement underway. Another several thousand-dollar unbudgeted expense to be shared by the association. Vandalism happens to be a constant in our society.

Being frustrated, I decided to scribe a rant to share with a city official to at least let someone know what occurred. The HOA filed no police report — it has happened before. Previous stories: no culprit to catch, no one to blame, or willing to claim responsibility.

On Nov. 21, as I watched the Federal Way City Council meeting, I was struck by the irony of my situation. Police Chief Andy Hwang gave a timely update on crime in our city. He shared statistics and trends showing how we are doing year over year.

We are seeing a downward trend in commercial burglaries but the smash-and-grab methods being used are alarming. Residential burglaries are trending down as well. Then again, we are being significantly challenged by an increase in auto thefts with 1,976 reported so far this year, and to date, our city has experienced 10 murders.

Public safety issues and crime statistics show us that criminal behavior is consistently present in Federal Way and elsewhere. Citizens want less crime and often put unrealistic, but necessary, expectations on the capability of police officers to prevent, chase, catch, and get perpetrators off the streets. As citizens, we must be aware and take prevention seriously, and If we know something, it is our obligation to share what we know.

The irony appeared later in the meeting when most of the public had left and viewership on YouTube was down to 20. The Public Works Director E. J. Walsh, Parks and Recreation Director John Hutton, and Police Chief Andy Hwang reported on the recent break-in, theft of city equipment, and damage that occurred at the city’s maintenance yard. An unbudgeted expense that begins at $400,000 and likely will increase.

These department heads were explaining the damage, the confused police response, the lack of legal capability to pursue the perpetrators, the cost of replacing what was damaged and stolen, and the need to add an additional onsite security person – a new expense – to protect city equipment. Their frustration is one we all internalize – the “what ifs” of what happened, what could we have done differently to prevent the situation and damage control.

The city council and the mayor expressed their frustration as well, and then they had the responsibility to figure out how to cover the costs associated with the break-in, theft, damage to equipment, emergency replacement, and repair of essential vehicles, trailers, tools, and so on. The discussion included the new cost of providing a physical after-hours security presence from the time city staff leaves for the day and returns to start the next workday.

Collectively we need to be angry about the theft because it is our tax dollars – our money. Criminals and vandals do not care. They never think about who they are impacting or the consequences. They aren’t wired to rationalize that way – they generally have no sense of the pain they cause.

I know that in the grand scheme of things my mailbox is a small issue, but it is consequential in terms of inconvenience and shared cost. It is also a symptom of the ills and lack of responsibility that permeates our society – seemingly forever.

Every day, collectively we are the victims of crime at some level. It is just a few degrees of separation from the actual event to feeling the fear, recognizing the impact on our community, and comprehending that we all share in the expense in some way. None of this is new and the conditions for crime – opportunity – were present.

Consequences can be very personal. As a youngster I watched my father recover from being struck in the head in his store for the funds in the cash register. A few years later his store manager embezzled enough money to forever change the business. The impacts of crime are always personal.

Regarding the city’s challenge of protecting itself in the public safety arena, like the rest of us, they are also vulnerable and at the moment – angry. To the department heads that came hat-in-hand asking for money and resources to solve the immediate crisis, it was an awkward look but an honest exercise. We all live in a world of taking the risk and believing it won’t happen to us.

As citizens, we should be frustrated with this city council for not valuing the need for properly hardening our poor excuse of a maintenance yard after previous break-ins. Our anger should include all the preceding councils for not valuing the need for a proper maintenance yard that is secure and sized appropriately to serve us.

The city – which is us – can do no work in the public’s interest without vehicles and equipment. We take it for granted that the city can do its job regardless of the problem. Their ability to be in a protect and serve capacity is meaningless without proper equipment at the ready.

The job has been getting done for years with an inadequate maintenance yard. This “can” got kicked down the road for years by our elected leaders continually saying kind words thanking staff for their efforts and reassuring the public about the job getting done.

Our need for a proper maintenance yard has been a council and community responsibility for years. Council gave it a low priority and as citizens our frustration needs to be squarely on a city council philosophy that accepted this risk and to some degree created an opportunity that may have been preventable.

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