by Doug Mah, Doug Mah & Associates, Thurston Chamber Public Policy Director
On March 29, 2023, the Thurston County Chamber brought together influential business leaders and law enforcement in a powerful discussion led by Doug Mah, the director of the Chamber’s Public Policy team. With representatives from the Thurston County Sheriff’s office, City of Olympia Police, City of Tumwater Police, and City of Lacey Police in attendance, the conversation was nothing short of impactful.
Several business owners and board members of the Thurston Chamber shared their firsthand experiences of how crime has impacted their businesses and the community. Will Callicoat, President of MultiCare Capital Medical Center, shared sobering accounts of the devastating impact of Fentanyl use, overdoses, and property crime on their emergency room. De’Leon Brooks, owner of Cash Oasis, revealed the alarming trend of ATM thefts at nail salons and the frequency of robberies related to Fentanyl. Joseph Lanham, Wells Fargo District Manager, expressed concerns about the lack of seriousness in addressing these issues and the unequal justice faced by different people.
Trenton Fluetsch, incoming Board Chair and president of Sunset Air, shared a stark reality that has been plaguing his business. The theft of copper has caused significant damage as well as costs. In addition, every single one of their box trucks have been damaged due to attempted theft. As if that wasn’t enough, they have also fallen victim to six stolen catalytic converters, always seeming to happen during long weekends. “My team and I set up patrols at night, knowing we are at constant risk of theft,” he said.
Law enforcement officials also highlighted the challenges they face. Tumwater Police Chief Jon Weiks acknowledged the complexities of the current situation and the need to regain the voice of law enforcement. Weiks expressed concern about having the right people at the table and not wanting to make excuses, and highlighted the multiple breakdowns in the system, exacerbated by police reform and the impact of COVID-19.
Lacey Police Chief Robert Almada emphasized the need for a comprehensive approach to address addiction and praised a Senate bill, HB5536, as a promising plan. Thurston County Sheriff Derek Sanders raised concerns about limitations on jail capacity and the strain on corrections deputies.
Sam Costello, Deputy Chief of Olympia Police Department, emphasized the need for people to understand the constraints law enforcement faces in terms of personnel and resources. His comments shed light on the challenges police officers face in providing effective and timely response to crime, underscoring the importance of addressing resource constraints for better public safety outcomes.
Dr. Deb Clemens, a Thurston Chamber Board Member and Superintendent of North Thurston Public Schools, commends the strong partnership between the school district, the county, and Lacey despite the constraints they face. “I appreciate their responsiveness and dedication as well as the commitment of everyone working together to overcome obstacles and create a supportive environment for the community,” she said.
The Chamber’s commitment to fostering dialogue and advocating for the business community, combined with the determination and insights shared by business leaders and law enforcement officials, highlighted the urgent need to unite against crime and protect the well-being of the community. The collective expertise and insights shared during this crucial discussion shed light on the far-reaching impacts of crime on businesses, providing a platform for meaningful dialogue and action. It was a pivotal moment that showcased the Chamber’s commitment to advocating for the business community and fostering collaboration between key stakeholders to address critical issues.
“Public safety is a paramount duty of local government,” according to David Schaffert, Thurston Chamber President/CEO. “The Thurston Chamber recognizes that it takes many voices at the public policy table to ensure we have a balanced approach to meeting the needs of our communities.”
Moving forward, the Public Policy Division will focus on four actions:
1) Continue the productive dialog with members of the regional criminal justice system leadership;
2) Advocate that local criminal justice agencies have the resources (such as human, technology, and jail capacity) required to do their jobs;
3) Seek reasonable pursuit and drug possession reform legislation; and
4) Assist in regional workforce development efforts so we can recruit and retain tomorrow’s finest public safety professionals.
The crime and public safety challenges experienced by Chamber members need to be recognized by policy makers at all levels of government. The Thurston Chamber is committed to building safer and more resilient communities in partnership with businesses, residents, and those that respond to our calls for help. Please reach out and share your thoughts with us.
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