Merchants and residents give Auburn leaders an earful about crime

Fed-up business owners and city residents brought their complaints to the Auburn City Council.

Break-ins, vandalism, burglaries and out-in-the-open drug use are making it a bummer to work, live, or shop in certain areas of Auburn, notably downtown and along Auburn Way South.

So said the fed-up business owners and city residents who brought their complaints to the Auburn City Council on May 1, tied to urgent pleas for council members, the mayor and the police chief to give the problem more than lip service.

Still stinging from a break-in back in March, Carly Willis, owner of the Antique Marketplace on Howard Road, reminded the council that she’d first addressed them on April 3.

One week later, she said, thieves struck again, leaving $20,000 in damage and lost income in their wake.

“I lost two vendors that night as they were cleared out of merchandise. One of them lost $10,000. … I still have plywood over my 5 feet wide by 8 feet tall window because, why bother replacing it?” said Willis.

“My vendors and other small businesses in the area are leaving Auburn,” Willis continued. “It is lawless here. We are made empty promises and ultimately must do what is necessary to protect ourselves and those who rely on us. … I am calling on you all to step up and do what is within your power to stop this madness. We, the people, are fed up.”

David Chivez, a resident of Legacy Plaza on South Division Street, said he is also fed up with the brazen drug use.

“They’re doing drugs right out in the open. I walk to a lot of the businesses here, and in and around Safeway you’ll see a lot of activity,” Chivez said.

Activity like he recently observed near Merrill Gardens on South Division Street.

“People on the corner, in front of kids, lighting up in front of parents,” said Chiviz. “When you call the police … they say, ‘This is not a priority because we’re short of police, and because the law allows these people to carry these drugs on themselves without being arrested.’ … I was told by another person it’s like whack-a-mole. If it doesn’t happen here, it’s going to happen somewhere else.”

Criminals have also victimized Auburn resident Val Erickson.

“I know that you are suffering,” Erickson said to Willis. “I have suffered as a resident of Auburn, as a taxpayer, and as a property owner. I’ve lived in Auburn for over 40 years, and for over 34 years, I felt safe. The last six years, I do not feel safe.”

Burglars, she said, have hit her M Street Northeast home and have stolen her car, and somebody smashed one of her windows with a rock, among other misdeeds.

“A human being pooped diarrhea in my garage, which I had to pay to have cleaned up. Those are just some of the things,” Erickson said.

Willis said she understands that Auburn Police Department is understaffed, but she wants to know why.

“Why are officers leaving Auburn by the handful for other departments a city or two away? The state laws are the same in Renton. What is making the officers of the Auburn Police Department feel unsupported, unwanted and ultimately leave because of it?” Willis said. “There’s a difference between leaving for better opportunity, and leaving for lack of support.”

Police Chief Mark Caillier told the Auburn Reporter May 8 that the APD has five officer vacancies it is “actively filling,” and at the moment has 20 entry level and three lateral candidates in various stages of the hiring process.

“Our biggest hurdle right now is getting people we have hired into the state police academy,” Caillier said. “We have eight officer candidates waiting to go, with probable academy dates set throughout the rest of the year. We don’t control when they get selected for class, the (Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission) does.”

The recent departures of officers, Caillier added, had nothing to do with any failure of support.

“We have several candidates that have chosen our agency, even though they had job offers from other cities. I believe it is because of the culture at our agency and the quality of our staff that they are choosing to work at Auburn.

“State laws are the same in other cities; however, pay and benefits differ throughout the region, especially in South King County. Our officers who have left made the choice they believed was right for them and their families. It was not for lack of support within the agency,” Caillier said.

In her online Weekly Update, Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus acknowledged the concerns.

“These stories are difficult to hear — small businesses are the backbone of our community. Their frustration is valid. Believe me, I understand that frustration. I’m frustrated too. We’re aware of the increase in incidents and we would like to work with all stakeholders to find solutions that will increase safety and improve conditions overall in this area and beyond. I look forward to hearing from this group and the action that will follow,” Backus said.