Islanders voice concerns about crime, drugs

Sgt. Calvin Beringer told Islanders that burglaries and larcenies are on the rise on Vashon, confirming many residents’ suspicions. - Leslie Brown/Staff Photo
Sgt. Calvin Beringer told Islanders that burglaries and larcenies are on the rise on Vashon, confirming many residents’ suspicions.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

Vashon’s top law enforcement official told Islanders Monday night that the perceptions many hold are correct: Crime on the Island has risen considerably this year and is likely tied to increased drug use.

Sgt. Calvin Beringer, invited to Vashon for a special forum on crime, told the crowd of roughly 100 at McMurray Middle School that crime on Vashon, including burglary and larceny, is already up about 50 percent from last year. “Keep in mind still October, November and December haven’t been added in,” he said.

The officer, Vashon’s administrative sergeant who is based in the King County Sheriff Office’s Burien precinct, also offered up good news to those in attendance. He said the office has been investigating the recent string of burglaries on Vashon and has narrowed its focus to a few key suspects, some of whom have been arrested for unrelated misdemeanor crimes.

“We’re relatively sure we know who these people are, but I have to be careful what I tell you,” he said.

When asked by one audience member why arrests haven’t been made, Beringer explained that the department takes caution before apprehending suspects, waiting until it has sufficient evidence to charge them with a crime.

“I don’t want to put them in jail for two days without a hammer on them. … I want to have good quality information to keep them in jail,” he said.

During a spirited question-and-answer period, Islanders raised a wide variety of issues, many of them questioning officers’ handling of specific situations.

One man said an officer’s failure to contact him when his trailer was stolen resulted in a $500 impoundment fee. Another claimed that an officer refused to make a report of a burglary that happened to him. And a bartender from the Sportsmen’s Inn complained about the police’s failure to respond when she discovered a syringe outside the restaurant and raised concerns about a specific officer who frequents the bar while on duty.

Beringer attempted to

address each person’s con-cerns, noting in some instances — the officer who frequents Sporty’s, for instance — that he wanted to continue the conversation privately after the meeting. He also apologized several times for officers who may have acted inappropriately but emphasized that specific complaints should be handled by him.

“If you feel you’re not being treated by a deputy accordingly, then you call me. … The buck stops with me,” he said.

Beringer also assured Islanders that the sheriff’s department covers Vashon just as well as the rest of King County — better, in fact, than some parts of unincorporated King County. At any given time, he said, two officers are always on duty.

And when Claudia Gross Shader raised a concern about officers who don’t seem to know the Island well, Beringer said that was a common misperception. Currently, he added, eight of the nine officers who serve Vashon work full time on the Island and are here because they want to be.

“Pretty much they are the same officers who come over here all the time,” he said.

Other Islanders raised concerns about drug use, which many believe may be on the rise on Vashon.

When Susan McCabe asked if the recent increase in burglaries on the Island was tied to increased drug use, Beringer answered with an emphatic “yes.” Traditionally, he said, most burglaries are committed by addicts looking for items they can sell — from a cheap cell phone to an expensive laptop. In addition, he said, drug use has been statistically linked with rising unemployment rates. “I truly believe it’s all tied together,” he said.

Dep. Joel Anderson, one of two deputies on hand for the meeting, added to the conversation, saying use of both methamphetamines and heroin has grown on Vashon, and heroin use is especially high. “In the last six to nine months there has been a big increase in heroin use,” he told The Beachcomber after the meeting.

Beringer emphasized throughout the meeting that the most valuable role Vashon residents can play to help the department solve crimes and prevent future crime is to report any suspicious activity they observe, as any small tip could aid in an investigation or lead police to a suspect.

Crime on Vashon has actually dropped significantly in the past fewweeks, Beringer said, in part because Islanders have been giving more tips to the sheriff’s department. “More Islanders have been stepping up because of recent events that have been going on,” he told The Beachcomber after the meeting.

Beringer said that Vashon residents should report any circumstances that seem suspicious or out of the ordinary by calling or e-mailing him, or simply dialing 911 and stating that there is no emergency. “Don’t worry about tying up a line, because you won’t,” Beringer said.

Whenever possible, he said, those who call should give vehicle descriptions and license plate numbers as well as descriptions of any individuals.

“You know what belongs over here. … We need your help,” he said.

Sgt. Calvin Beringer can be reached at 255-8203 or at

The King County Sheriff’s Office encourages those who see suspicious activity to always call 911, even if it’s not an emergency.

A follow-up meeting on crime on Vashon will be held at Vashon Island Fire and Rescue's main station on Bank Road at 7 p.m. Oct. 28.

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