Surveillance footage from April 2023 shows burglars using a truck to yank an ATM through the doors of the Puerto Vallarta restaurant in Twin Lakes in Federal Way. At the time of this incident, the restaurant had seen five break-ins in two months. (File photo)

Surveillance footage from April 2023 shows burglars using a truck to yank an ATM through the doors of the Puerto Vallarta restaurant in Twin Lakes in Federal Way. At the time of this incident, the restaurant had seen five break-ins in two months. (File photo)

Federal Way businesses sound off on crime and safety

Police and city leaders join discussion with local business representatives.

In a 2023 business safety survey conducted by the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, 42% of respondents reported they have felt unsafe while operating their business. Almost two-thirds of survey takers said they’ve had to call the police because of criminal activity at their business.

To address these challenges, business leaders and city officials met over Zoom on Feb. 21 to discuss safety and crime in retail businesses in Federal Way.

Business owner feedback

Bridget O’Connor, community engagement officer for Red Canoe Credit Union, shared frustrations about issues at their location on Pacific Highway South in Federal Way.

“They completely lifted our ATM with a forklift and I have to go up to people in the parking lot and tell them that they can’t smoke methamphetamine,” O’Connor said.

“For us the biggest concern, of course, is not only our employees, but if people don’t feel safe to do business, then they’re not going to do business in your establishment,” O’Connor said. “The cost of doing business in Federal Way has gone up and up and up in terms of insurance, and having to replace all these important things,” but their biggest focus is the “safety concern.”

O’Connor also expressed frustration with the police department, adding that “we’ve also gotten zero communication regarding our case of our ATM and our night drops.”

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell and Police Chief Andy Hwang said they would follow up and support Red Canoe with responding to their challenges with crime on and near their property.

Another business owner shared some positive feedback to the city’s leadership and law enforcement. Joe Azzam said he has lived in Federal Way for 27 years and has owned a business in the city for 16 years: a car dealership on Pacific Highway South.

“I have to admit that I have seen a noticeable improvement thanks to the city of Federal Way presented by Mayor Jim and Chief Andy. Great job,” said Azzam, adding that “there’s a lot of improvements especially on Pacific Highway in this area.”

Azzam said that he’s noticed less “homeless activities” around his car dealership and that while there is “still some work to be done,” overall the “number one thing I wanted to say is thank you, there’s been quite a bit of improvement.”

After hearing an appreciative and celebratory response from Chief Hwang, Azzam added, “I don’t just want to say what can the city do for us, I want to see what can we do for the city.” He said that “as business owners, what we can do to contribute to improving the problem and helping fix the problem?”

Other business owners shared similar frustrations and commendations, and others added requests for support.

City and local organization response

City officials encouraged businesses to reach out to the police department to strategize on long-term persistent issues. Some possible solutions police could offer included running a SWAT training near a business, conducting a sting via the Special Operations Unit, adding extra patrols, offer a mobile surveillance unit or potentially training staff on theft.

Business owners were also encouraged to log incidents and share information via the Safe City app and to take advantage of resources offered by organizations like the Washington Organized Retail Crime Association (WAORCA) and the Washington Retail Association.

Robert Nelson, president of WAORCA, said the organization is a “collaborative effort between law enforcement, retail investigators and prosecutors who work together to identify, investigate and prosecute folks who are responsible for organized retail crimes in Washington.”

Nelson encouraged retail business owners to collaborate with them and with local law enforcement on theft emphasis training. These can be “incredibly impactful,” Nelson said, “not only for the thieves who are stealing...but for those associates that are working in stores that day after day after day sees folks running out with product to finally see that suspect being arrested. There’s a huge morale boost for your associates.”

The “Guide to Navigating Public Safety & Retail Crime” is a free resource that Nelson recommended to business owners, available on the Washington Retail Association’s website.

Chief Hwang provided an overview of the Federal Way Police Department’s efforts to reduce crime, specifically crimes that impact safety and loss prevention in retail stores. These include drug and shoplifting emphasis operations and enforcement of the shopping cart law as well as a variety of surveillance tools, including Safe City cameras, mobile surveillance units and automatic license plate readers. The chief also commented on the relationship between car thefts and property crime and the impact of the state’s strict pursuit laws that do not allow officers to pursue stolen vehicles.

Joe Laky is president of the Safe City Program with the city and is also the market asset protection manager for eight local Walmart stores. Laky shared that Safe City is a “joint effort between the business community within Federal Way, the city of Federal Way, the Federal Way Police Department and our citizens within Federal Way.” He reminded participants that the police do not monitor Safe City, so for crimes in progress, citizens should alert the police via 911.

Laky said that Safe City is just one way for business owners to engage.

“We also need greater resources to address the magnitudes of threats that we now face,” Laky said, adding that “every jurisdiction has business partners who want to help address crime in their area, but sometimes they don’t have the venue for proactive engagement.”

Tanja Carter, economic development director for the city, spoke about how the city partners with businesses: “Business retention and expansion as well as resiliency are our major focus around economic development. And we really pride ourselves on being results driven and proactive,” she said.

Part of this focus on being proactive relates to the business survey conducted by the city. Sharing the results from last year, Carter said that the city wanted to know what keeps business owners up at night.

“First is commercial affordability. Second is marketing and promotion of your businesses, and third is safety and lighting,” Carter said.

She also reminded business owners of the importance of keeping their license contact information up to date with the city, making sure that at a “minimum that your email address is current and accurate so we can communicate with you.”

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