Safety and crime, chief among concerns at second ward meeting

School crosswalk safety, drugs, vandalism and theft at businesses, black-clad bicycle riders and johns and prostitutes were what most folks wanted to talk about Tuesday evening at A. J. West Elementary School in Aberdeen for the second of four “ward meetings” the city administration called to see what’s on citizens’ minds.

Most questions from the audience of around 25 people were fielded by moderator and Aberdeen Police Chief Bob Torgerson and Public Works Director Malcolm Bowie. Many city officials, council members and several council candidates were present. The meeting was planned for an hour but went into overtime.

Called by Mayor Bill Simpson, the meetings are similar to ones held last year. The other two are next week, on Monday and Friday evenings.

Safety of children who walk to school in front of A.J. West on Bay Street and the “idiots” who speed and run stop signs was the major concern for area residents Joe Girard and Ward 6 candidate Michelle Barclay, who suggested parents take down the names of offenders for possible letters from the city. Torgerson deemed it a good idea.

Aberdeen police, followed up Wednesday morning and put up a traffic emphasis on Bay Street between 8 and 8:35 a.m. Eight verbal warnings, three traffic infractions and one citation for driving while suspended, were delivered, Capt. John Green said. Two infractions were for failing to stop at a stop sign, the other was for being too close to a crosswalk. More emphasis efforts are planned, Green said.

Girard suggested repainting and installing new crosswalks. The chief and Bowie pointed to studies that show that crosswalks are not necessarily safer than intersections without crosswalks because people are not as vigilant when crossing. Noting life is much more precious, Bowie said crosswalk markings cost about $1,000 per intersection. He said he’d check the budget for more funding. There is an ongoing project at McDermoth Elementary, he noted.

The police are willing to help recreate Neighborhood Watch groups, but noted participants have to be willing to keep them going, he said.

Hope for elimination of drug houses was voiced by 6th Ward incumbent Denny Lawrence and the mayor. Lawrence, who is up for re-election, spoke of a suspect residence about a half a block from A.J. West. Working together a few years ago, he, the neighbors, police and city officials targeted the house, which was deemed unsafe to occupy, and was eventually sold and remodeled. “It is now one of the nicest houses in the area,” Lawrence said. “It went from ‘omigod’ to ‘wow!’” he said later.

Simpson and several neighbors and the city also targeted a house near his home. It took a few years of reporting licenses and following up, but the occupant was eventually arrested and put away, he said. The man, who used to “flip me off” now has a good job elsewhere and “wrote a letter of apology,” the mayor said at the city budget workshop Wednesday evening.

Theft and vandalism concern Gary Randall, who owns ServiceMaster 1st Choice at 813 W. Heron St. and EnviroTech Contractor Services, a storage and carpentry shop in the old Harbor Saw building at 2211 W. 1st. St.. He said he’s been the victim of vandalism and finds trash, condoms and needles.

Most of the major problems affect the Heron address, he said. In the last year, he has lost $3,000 in theft and vandalism, “probably incurred $1,000 in dump fees for chemicals” dumped on his property and he has had to install cameras and alarm systems, he said. Gasoline thieves have cut hoses and siphoned gas, he said, and they drilled the gas tanks, putting trucks out of commission for repairs. Police come when he calls and want to make an arrest, but cannot do much if they don’t witness the crime so sometimes he doesn’t call police, Randall said.

At first he threatened to move his businesses to Hoquiam where he believes there is less crime.

“I don’t want to move, but I am frustrated … it’s exhausting working 12-hour days (to) go home and watch stupid security cameras all night,” Randall said. He softened his stance as the meeting progressed, and commented that his drivers have the proper type of containers to dispose of used syringes and for years have done a community service by collecting needles discarded by drug users.

Finance Director Kathryn Skolrood noted that her family’s business in Hoquiam also gets hit, adding after the meeting that “crime does not stop at Myrtle Street.” Torgerson said he had no good answer for how to stop theft, other than to target patrols where they are most needed. Crime is like a water balloon, you squeeze and the water moves elsewhere, he said.

The best solution is to call police each time there is a violation. “We want more calls,” the chief said. Police fielded 27,000 calls last year and are on target to handle 30,000 in 2013, he told the crowd.

Randall was also outraged by prostitutes and roving bands of black-clad bicyclers who he said roam around the city at night. Citizen Courtney Cook said she wants solutions, not excuses, and complained about meth heads and prostitutes at area motels. A county task force is targeting crime at the top with long-term investigations, Torgerson said.

The next meetings are:

Monday — Robert Gray School at 1516 N. B St., for Wards 2 & 3

Friday, Nov. 8 — McDermoth School, 401 N. K St., for Wards 3, 4 & 5

Erin Hart: 360-537-3932, Twitter: @DW_Erin