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Community Coffeehouse: Michael Zaro discusses Lakewood crime

Mayor Whalen and friendsLakewood’s new mayor, Jason Whalen (with the scissors), has initiated a “Community Coffeehouse”, which meets every other month. The last meeting was on March 24, at Fort Steilacoom Park’s pavilion, and its subject was public safety.

The meeting was well attended, and there was a big effort to make everyone feel welcome. Both Jason Whalen and Heidi Wachter, the City attorney, greeted me as I arrived, and there was plenty of food and coffee. This was not the place to make political points – you would have had to have been very brave to ask questions about the shooting of Said Joquin when everyone else wanted to talk about burglary and car theft.

Which brings us to the main speaker, Michael Zaro, Lakewood’s police chief. Some might say that he shouldn’t be commenting on public safety, given his involvement in the Leonard Thomas killing, and the multi-million dollar award to the Thomas family that followed it. However, the City loves Michael Zaro, and there is no doubt that he is highly intelligent and very articulate.

Michael Zaro reassured Lakewood that overall, there wasn’t much to worry about. The group of crimes that most people are afraid of, crimes against the person, are not going up. He also pointed out that crimes against the person tend to involve people who know each other, rather than strangers. And here are the numbers, in a quarterly graph put out by the Lakewood Police Department:

Lakewood Person Crime

Where there is a problem is property crimes, and in particular, the theft of motor vehicles. This happened to my neighbor, who lives across the road from Jason Whalen.

At around 6.30 am a woman walked into his house while his family was sleeping, grabbed his keys, and took off in his car. He tried to stop her, but the woman told him, as she drove off, that she needed money to feed her kids. Fortunately the gas tank was nearly empty, and the car was found abandoned in University Place.

Here’s the graph for property crimes:

Lakewood property crimes

And motor vehicle theft:

Motor vehicle theft

Michael Zaro suggested that one of the reasons for the increase in motor vehicle theft, and other vehicle-related crimes, was state law – specicifically, the passing of House Bill 1054 in 2021.

As a result of this law, passed by a Democrat-dominated state legislature, police can only pursue vehicles in the gravest of circumstances. This means that people who have stolen cars, or being interrupted in the middle of a burglary, can drive off without any fear of being chased.

To illustrate this, Zaro showed a video taken in the Safeways parking lot. A suspected thief had passed out in a car, and as he was sleeping, the police had to barricade the car in, with patrol vehicles in front of him and behind him. Otherwise, he could have driven off the moment he woke up.

House Bill 1054 was not just about vehicular pursuit, and it covered a range of police behavior – for example relating to choke-holds and the use of military equipment. However, it has clearly encouraged certain types of crime, as Lakewood residents are discovering to their cost. And I suspect that over the next few years Washington Republicans are going to hold up House Bill 1054 as evidence that the Democrats are dangerously weak on law and order.

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