Residents of Olympia’s Eastside neighborhood worry that their corner of town has become a hotbed of crime — with vehicle prowls, burglaries and drug deals all too prevalent.
One Central Street house in particular is a cause of concern for many residents, who report hundreds of cars coming and going around the clock. Several people said they believe drugs are being sold at the home.
“It’s constant. There are a lot of smaller things that are happening all the time, and they’re all connected. And the police have just stopped showing up,” said a woman who didn’t want to be named due to safety concerns.
She and about 70 other residents of the Eastside neighborhood — bordered by Eastside Street to the west, Chambers Street to the east, Fourth Avenue to the north and Interstate 5 to the south — gathered at the First United Methodist Church on Wednesday night to discuss the issues, and what the Olympia Police Department is doing about them. Lt. Paul Lower addressed the group and said that solving the problem of the alleged drug house isn’t as simple as it might seem.
He said the police department is doing what it can: One officer covertly watches the house whenever he can, plus the house is in foreclosure and the management company is in the process of evicting the residents. He said the lockout date for the residents is in September.
In the past five years, five arrests have been made at the home. But that doesn’t mean that suspects connected to the home haven’t been arrested in other locations.
Still, the department is limited by state law and the constitution when it comes to the action that can be taken.
“My role as a police officer is to protect everyone’s rights,” Lower said. “That means you all, and that means the residents of that house.”
In the meantime, residents should keep calling police whenever they see something suspicious or potentially illegal. Lower said that the department won’t know the reality of the problem unless crime is reported.
A man, who also didn’t want to be named due to safety concerns, said he believes the problem with the house is caused, at least in part, by the city’s ordinances.
“The problem isn’t OPD, the problem is that there isn’t an ordinance to deal with this problem,” he said. “It’s about making Olympia not as friendly to drug users.”
He said one of his concerns is how needle exchanges make clean syringes available in Olympia. He said that while gardening recently, he found a box of unused needles in his yard.
“I almost stuck myself on them,” he said. “But luckily they were clean.”
Jeanne Koenings, one of the meeting’s organizers, said that while many residents are concerned about the “problem house,” that’s not the only reason why neighbors called the meeting. She said that there have been several burglaries, and people have been caught prowling in backyards.
“This is still a wonderful neighborhood to live in, but it’s clear that there are some problems,” Koenings said. “And it’s time we addressed them.”
She said her car was broken into about 18 months ago, and a $500 pair of prescription sunglasses was stolen.
“And I know they threw them away as soon as they tried them on,” Koenings said. “Nobody but me can see out of them. That’s what makes me really mad.”
Lower said that statistically, the Eastside neighborhood tracks with the rest of Olympia when it comes to most types of crime. The main difference, he said, is that Eastside residents are vigilant about contacting the police when something goes wrong.
“That’s what we like to see,” Lower said. “You guys are our best neighborhood when it comes to communication.”
Resident Anna Schlecht encouraged her neighbors to be even more communicative with each other as they are with the police department. She said many of her neighbors are renters — and that segment of the population doesn’t typically come to neighborhood association meetings, or participate in the Eastside groups on Facebook and the app Next Door.
“We need to be responsible and active neighbors,” Schlecht said. “If we’re not talking to our neighbors, we’re kind of ripe for the picking.”
Lower agreed, saying that the best crime deterrent is a nosy neighbor.
Whitney Bowerman, who also helped organize the meeting, encouraged the group to come up with solutions to the crime problems — in addition to airing grievances. Residents came up with several suggestions: a neighborhood watch, a block party so neighbors can meet each other and a city task force on crime.
Brian Brannies, president of the neighborhood association, offered to install lights on his neighbors’ homes, if they’re not comfortable climbing ladders. He said people can contact him through the Eastside Neighborhood Association website.
The three Olympia City Council members in attendance — Jim Cooper, Clark Gilman and Nathaniel Jones — encouraged residents to keep the city informed about their concerns.
“Even if you’re frustrated with the response you’re getting, keep calling,” Jones said.
The group will meet in about a month to discuss measures they can take against crime in the Eastside neighborhood.