Kent Police put two bicycle officers on patrol this week near Springwood Park on the East Hill after residents complained to the city about recent shootings and a slow response by officers.
An attempted carjacking with shots fired at the vehicle owner on the evening of July 1 in the 12700 block of Southeast 274th Street caused several residents to email Mayor Dana Ralph and to speak up during the public comment period at the July 2 City Council meeting.
“We’ve had a dramatic increase in violent crime,” said Patrick Michaud to the council. “A young man was shot at during an attempted carjacking. The police response to this was unacceptable. Twenty minutes elapsed before the first officer arrived. That is too long.”
Michaud said four shootings have occurred at the park since April and that people were struck by gunfire in two of the incidents.
“Communication or lack thereof from the department, leaves the community in fear,” Michaud told the council. “We hear about the initial incident if it results in someone being killed or maimed, but hear nothing of arrests or investigative updates. This lack of transparency breeds rumor and contempt. I urge the police to be out in the public speaking to neighbors about incidents.”
Ralph and Council President Bill Boyce added an agenda item to the council meeting so Police Assistant Chief Jard Kasner could respond to the numerous complaints about crime in and near Springwood Park.
Police also moved a security camera pod this week to a cul-de-sac next to the park in an effort to deter crime.
“It’s a start not a solution,” Kasner said. “People will know it’s there, with a blinking blue light.”
Kasner disagreed with a public perception of police not doing anything about the recent carjacking attempt.
“It was a response time of 20 minutes,” Kasner said. “It came in as an illegal discharge. It was later changed to a carjacking and shooting, which changed its priority. We were on the scene within seven minutes (after the update). It’s not an excuse, but there was a burglary in progress and the units closest to (the shooting) were responding to (the burglary) that came in about same time. They cleared that, and responded.”
Ralph and Police Chief Rafael Padilla will meet with the management of the nearby Birch Creek Apartments as well as the King County Housing Authority to try to curtail crime.
“In that area, we believe the carjacking was associated with a bigger group that is stealing cars and leaving them in that area,” Kasner said. “The Birch Creek Apartments are nearby and could be associated, so we are reaching out to management.”
Other residents near Springwood Park told the council about drug dealing, drug use, transients and homeless camps.
Ralph said parks staff already had been working on investments to try to improve the park and make it safer. She said she called Assistant Chief Kasner to talk about ways to deter crime in the area the same night she received emails from residents about the attempted carjacking.
“We are doing the best we can with the limited resources,” Ralph said. “We are a big city but we do not have enough police officers. That is not an excuse, we are trying harder. We will keep you posted on the plans and I thank the neighbors for reaching out to us.”
The mayor encouraged people to call 911 about any suspicious activity and to later reach out to her.
“If I don’t know about something, I can’t fix it,” Ralph said. “I’m not OK with what happened last night (July 1). We can and must do better. We need to make Kent safe for all of us.”
Ralph said she plans to talk to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in an effort to get tougher on juvenile crime.
Kasner said juveniles were expected to be involved in the attempted carjacking as well as other crimes in the Springwood Park area.
“They know the system is a little on the soft side or weak when it comes to prosecution,” Kasner said. “They are exploiting that, they are making fun with what they can get away with it.”