Vashon sees increase in ‘quality of life’ crimes this year

From partying at KVI Beach to mailbox bashings along the roads, the Island, some say, seems rowdier than usual this summer, raising concerns about both the quality of life on Vashon and the safety of some of its young people.

Some storeowners say shoplifting is up. Some say the trash is worse at KVI Beach. And despite hefty rewards, the King County Sheriff’s Office has yet to arrest anyone for some of the recent high-profile incidents of vandalism — including the tire-slashing of The Harbor School’s buses and the destruction of the runway lights at Vashon’s tiny municipal airport.

Add the recent desecration at the Havurat Ee Shalom, and frustrations about vandalism and its impact on the Island are mounting.

“I hate to say things are worse on the Island. I just feel there’s a small, wayward element, one or two people who are problem personalities or whatever you call them,” said Jill Janow, a retiree who recently wrote a letter to The Beachcomber about vandalism on Vashon. “The Island itself is very sound and wonderful. I think we just need to figure out who’s doing this and stop them.”

“It feels worse than usual,” Rondi Lightmark, an Islander, said about the trash she sees at KVI Beach when she walks her dogs in the morning. “I’m not a big fuddy-duddy. But the trash tells me that these are not people who are taking care, and they’re going to get hurt, or someone else is going to get hurt.”

Statistics, in part, bear out people’s concerns and observations.

Reports of assaults and other serious crimes are down this year over last year, according to Capt. D.J. Nesel, who oversees Vashon for the King County Sheriff’s Office. During the first seven months of 2007, the Sheriff’s Office had 78 reports of such crimes; in the first seven months of this year, that number has fallen a tad, to 74 reports.

But reports of what Nesel calls “quality of life” crimes — thefts and vandalism, for instance — have risen considerably this year. During the first seven months of last year, there were 146 reported incidents of what’s called Part II crimes, incidents that are considered minor. As of the end of July this year, there have been 176 such reported crimes, a 20 percent increase. Residential burglary, meanwhile is down: There were 29 reported incidents in the first seven months of 2007 compared to eight so far this year. But commercial burglary is up, from six reports a year ago to 16 this year.

Nesel said the trends may reflect, in part, some recent police activity. Last summer, he said, detectives effectively busted a small ring of people who were involved with drugs and responsible for a number of residential break-ins.

“But when you squeeze in one area, you see it bump up somewhere else,” he said.

Dept. Mel Dickson, a sheriff’s deputy who has worked the Vashon beat for the past seven years, said he thinks the spike in reported vandalism may also be due to the fact that people are reporting it now more than they used to.

“There’s definitely an increase in reported incidents this year over last year,” he said. “I would attribute that in part to the fact that we’ve encouraged people to call in and report them.”

Nesel concurred, noting that he’s detected a change on Vashon in its response to crime, due in part, he suggested, to the Island’s growing affluence. It used to be that Islanders preferred little intervention by the sheriff’s department, he said.

“Now, you see new money coming in, and expectations have changed drastically,” he said. “You go to a community meeting, and people say, ‘We want more speed enforcement. We want more crime enforcement.’ … That’s not something we saw several years ago.”

KVI Beach — an expansive and beloved stretch of sand on the east side of the Island — raises some particularly vexing issues, some say.

The beach is owned by Fisher Communications in Seattle, a television and radio company that owns, among other stations, KOMO TV and radio and KVI radio. Because it’s privately owned, some fear that the company could deny public access if problems mounted and the number of complaints grew. Indeed, John Barrett, chief engineer for Fisher Communications, said he’d have little choice but to shut it down if partying and garbage grew out of hand.

The fact that it’s private makes it harder to manage, he noted. Unlike parks owned by the Vashon Park District, KVI Beach doesn’t close at a certain hour. And while the sign at the entrance posts rules, those rules don’t have the same force of law that rules at a public park have.

“We can’t be out there. We’re not policemen,” Barrett said.

“If it really does get worse, we’d face no choice but to close the beach down,” he added.

Concerned about what he perceived as increased partying and trash at KVI Beach, an Ellisport resident recently attended the Vashon Park District’s commissioners meeting to ask if the park district board would consider developing some sort management agreement with Fisher. Both board chair David Hackett and Wendy Braicks, the park district’s executive director, said they’re intrigued by the idea and plan to look into it. Barrett, with Fisher, said he, too, finds merit in the suggestion.

“I think it’s Vashon’s best informal park,” Hackett said. “And it’s something that should be available for future generations.”

A year or two ago, Hackett said, he raised the issue of developing some sort of arrangement with Fisher that would allow the park district to pick up garbage, post rules and manage use. When the Ellisport resident appeared before the board last month, that rekindled his interest, he said.

Braicks concurred. “It’s a pretty unique place on the Island. If there’s a role to play, the park district feels we may be the ones to play it.”

Meanwhile, merchants in downtown Vashon who say they’re feeling the impact of what appears to be an increase in shoplifting, say they’re trying to work cooperatively to help each other out and put an end to some persistent problems.

Diana Anderson, who owns Luna Bella’s Consignment Boutique, said she recently had an incident of shoplifting, only to learn the same young women had also stolen goods from a couple of other Island shops, including The Little House and Kronos. It turned out that her employee who was at the store when the goods were stolen knew the names of the young women, and with the help of a sheriff’s deputy, Anderson was able to go to the women’s homes and get both her goods back as well as items belonging to The Little House.

Anderson said it was gratifying to realize she and the other shopkeepers can support each other this way.

“We’re working together as a team,” she said. We are cracking down. We are exchanging names. And we’re keeping the police abreast of what’s happening.”

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