Federal Way Police Chief Andy Hwang recently shared a public safety update, going over crime statistics, current department priorities and staffing.
In general, violent crime is up, Hwang said at the Nov. 20 Federal Way City Council meeting. The top reasons for this are the current issues with drugs and changes in police laws.
“One, we’re in a drug crisis. Fentanyl is very potent,” Hwang said of the issue. “We have people that are dying in our community on a regular basis.”
“When the drug overdose, the drug usage goes down, our communities will be safer because people are not in their right state of mind. They’re doing erratic stuff that’s causing people to not feel safe in our region,” Hwang added.
Two police reforms that Hwang said are affecting his department are pursuit laws and laws around questioning minors. Pursuit laws have been a frequent topic at city council meetings as public commenters, council members, the mayor and others have spoken to their effect on auto theft. Hwang pointed out that stolen cars are frequently used to commit other crimes.
Questioning or searching the property of minors is currently not allowed unless the minor has a lawyer present. Hwang advocated for this to be changed so that parents or guardians can give consent, or even minors themselves. Multiple impactful crimes in Federal Way have been committed by minors, including the recent string of purse snatchings, he said. The suspects in that case have been arrested — and were only 13 and 14 years old.
“This is a level of violence we have never seen before,” Hwang said. “It’s impacting a lot of people every single day, especially people who can least afford to have their car stolen. The auto theft number increased, almost doubled after the no pursue law went into effect.”
When it comes to staffing, Hwang said that progress is steady but slow.
“In 2024, we’re going to probably have 25, 30 people graduate from the police academy,” he said. “They’re still out six months and the day we hire them, they’re at least a year out before they graduate from the academy.”
Public commenters added to the conversation about crime, including Melissa Hamilton, who shared a tragic story in her personal community: “My church just planned a funeral for a family of a young man. His vehicle was stolen. He felt like he really needed that vehicle to get to work. Tracked the vehicle with an air tag, attempted to retrieve it himself. A deadly shootout occurred and he was shot to death by the criminals who stole his vehicle.”
Craig Patrick specifically spoke to the challenge that Federal Way leadership faces in working within the framework of current state legislation: “We’re only going to be as good as Washington state allows us to be,” he said.
The issues with pursuit laws and property crime were highlighted by a request later in the council meeting for emergency funds after a break-in at the Steel Lake maintenance yard. Public Works Director E.J. Walsh gave an overview of the incident and damage. On Nov. 15, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment theft and vandalism occurred at the facility located off 28th Avenue South.
“The alarm went off several times and our police officers went and initially didn’t see anything, looked around, came back and our officers actually came into contact with the people who had this in their possession,” Mayor Jim Ferrell said during the presentation. “They confronted them, tried to stop them and by state law, we were prohibited from pursuing them. I want you to know that $213,000 of your money got stolen when our police officers were there and they could have recovered it.”