M aple Valley may be one of the safest cities around, but it’s not perfect.
Michelle Bennett, who has been police chief since 2004, spoke in an interview this week about ways that residents can keep themselves more secure.
“It’s a great place to live, and comparing it to other places, it’s one of the safest places you can be,” says Bennett.
Maple Valley has traditionally claimed one of the lowest crime rates in the state for a city its size, she says. In 2010, the rate of major offenses such as assault and robbery dropped almost 30 percent compared to 2009, according to King County Sheriff’s Office statistical reports. Bennett is in the midst of compiling more recent figures now.
Kids are our most important foci for the city.
Bennett says the most common problems such as burglary and car theft sometimes could be prevented if some residents were less complacent. Thinking Maple Valley is immune to crime, people may leave their garage doors open, their cars unlocked or their bikes on the porch.
“It’s nice to think we can just leave this stuff here and it’s safe, but sorry, stuff disappears,” Bennett says.
She also encourages people to report suspicious behavior. For example, residents should call police if an unfamiliar car is parked in the neighborhood with people in it, or if someone unfamiliar is walking in a neighbor’s yard, or even if kids appear to be “smoking something suspicious.”
“It’s how we catch most burglars and auto thieves and car prowlers; somebody says, ‘That doesn’t look right,’” Bennett says. “That’s the primary method of us catching bad guys.”
The police department includes 16 commissioned officers that work under the King County Sheriff’s Office. Their jurisdiction includes the 6 square miles and nearly 23,000 people within the Maple Valley city limits.
A non-fatal shooting between teens along the Lake Wilderness Trail in December 2010 had many residents concerned about safety there, but Bennett stresses that the incident was atypical and that the kids involved have moved to another community.
Less than a handful of incidents have occurred along the trail since then, and they generally have involved kids stealing from other kids after dark.
Bennett notes that King County has jurisdiction over the trail, and its park rules prohibit people from using it after dark.
“Should people not be on the trail after dark, these minor anomalous occurrences — some of them might not occur,” Bennett says.
An undercover unit called the Problem Solving Emphasis Team tracks criminal activity that recurs at the same location, with same suspects, or involving the same victims.
Some crimes arise due to aimless teens who aren’t monitored by parents or involved in the activities available in Maple Valley.
“Kids are our most important foci for the city; … kids are mostly doing the graffiti and vandalism,” Bennett says. “It’s important to work with the school district and the community to make sure the kids have something to do.”
Another problem involves teens illegally using prescription drugs who need quick money to feed their addictions.
“With kids they think they’ll just try it once, and they try it once, and they’re hooked, and they’ll do anything for another hit,” Bennett says. “Unfortunately that means stealing things and fencing things and pawning things. … It’s so tragic.”
Bennett encourages parents and other residents to lock up prescription drugs. People can leave unused or expired prescription medication in the Drug Drop Box at the police station in City Hall. Read more HERE.
Despite these issues, crime stays low in Maple Valley because the community is unusually tight knit, says Bennett, a Maple Valley resident who previously worked in law enforcement for other communities such as Shoreline and North Bend. City leaders communicate well with one another, and neighborhoods are strong. This helps police officers feel connected, too, Bennett says.
“That’s the great thing about personal ownership with so many of our officers; it’s offensive when somebody comes into our community and commits a crime.”