Four men stood in front of a white house adorned with blue shutters, their backs to a busy bus stop, hands cuffed from behind.
Moments earlier, members of Thurston County’s first Regional Investigative Team had come knocking at the Division Street home’s door, assisting with a Department of Corrections warrant.
A man standing at the bus stop on a drizzly Thursday morning watched in shock as the unmarked cars pulled up and detectives from multiple agencies made their way to the door.
“Come out with your hands up,” an officer shouted into the house. “We need everyone outside; come out through the front door.”
The team, involving Sheriff’s Office, Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater detectives as well as Department of Corrections officers, began working together in early January as part of a 90-day trial period.
The team’s goal is to cut down on property crime throughout Thurston County.
“We have been talking for the last year about trying to address the problem we are having with burglaries and property crimes crossing jurisdictional lines,” said Sheriff’s Lt. Greg Elwin. “We are duplicating work and running into each other.”
The detectives decided to work together while investigating property crimes, including burglaries and thefts that have been on the rise countywide.
“The goal is to catch burglars and reduce the burglaries going on in the county,” said Sheriff’s Detective Ben Elkins. “It’s running amok.”
The task force has arrested 18 people on suspicion of crimes including identity theft, forgery, possession of stolen property and felony warrants.
There are no sources of extra funding to cover the regional task force.
The team tries to meet daily, using empty office space, but each detective has his or her regular workload to balance with the regional team’s work.
The detectives think it’s time well-spent. Cutting down on property crime helps to minimize other criminal activity.
“A lot of these property crimes are fueled by the drug trade,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Brady. “Burglaries usually overlap with drug stuff and a lot of identity thefts.”
Young adults are committing property crimes to feed addictions to heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine, Elkins said.
“They are robbing houses and stealing IDs to buy dope,” he said.
The team relies heavily on the help of Olympia’s and Lacey’s crime analysts, who help identify hot spots for crime. The Sheriff’s Office will hire a crime analyst of its own this year.
“The crime analysts are what is going to send the detectives in the direction they need to go,” Elwin said.
The regional team assists the Department of Corrections on warrants, even ones that aren’t directly related to property crimes, in hopes of at least cultivating future sources of information.
“We arrest them and get information about others that are doing property crimes,” Elkins said. “Sometimes they do and help get us another bad guy.”
That was the case Thursday with one suspect. A woman with misdemeanor warrants gave police information about a stolen Honda, including places where it had been, so officers could retrieve video surveillance footage.
Three people were arrested Thursday on warrants for escape and bail jumping. Detectives recovered a stolen Honda and Toyota, resulting in the arrest of a man they think was behind at least one of the thefts.
The man was sitting in the passenger’s seat of the Honda when police rolled up in their unmarked patrol cars.
At least six people were cuffed as officers sorted through a call that was becoming more complicated by the minute.
It turned out the dark-green Honda had been stolen from a Tacoma woman Wednesday night while she was at work in Lacey. The car’s plates were stolen from a different Honda.
Police also found stolen credit cards.
Of the 11 people questioned at the Division Street home Thursday, four were arrested.
One suspect wearing a black beanie yelled across to a pair already sitting in the back of an Olympia Police Department cruiser.
“Bye, Mom … bye, guys,” he said, as he was led to a different patrol car.
At the end of 90 days, the various chiefs and the county sheriff will evaluate the team’s work to determine whether work should continue.
“We want the bad guys to know we are coming after you,” Elwin said.