Smokey Point businesses cope with crime

SMOKEY POINT — The problems that employees of the Smokey Point Safeway reported to the Arlington City Council are not unique.

Of Safeway's neighboring businesses along 172nd Avenue, employees of Jersey Mike's Subs confirmed that they've had people going through their trash, looking for food, while employees of What's Bloomin' Now also witnessed a man with no pants, barking like a dog in the parking lot, reported last week by Safeway employee Tracey Goddard.

"We actually called the police about that guy an hour before Safeway did," What's Bloomin' Now employee Marti Hoglund said. "We've found needles, and we've talked with the folks at Jersey Mike's, who are constantly finding new surprises, to the point that they have to make rounds. It's not as bad for us, since we don't serve food."

Like Goddard, Hoglund has witnessed drug deals firsthand, which she's reported to police.

Julie Dearman serves as district leader for the Hairmasters chain of salons, which makes Smokey Point only one of her storefronts, but she's familiar with the area's problems.

"That's not just one shop," Dearman said. "That's all of Smokey Point. I used to go shopping at that Safeway, but I won't even go there anymore. Even inside, it's too scary and dangerous."

Deputy Police Chief Jonathan Ventura expressed his sympathies to the businesses who have been impacted, but offered some possible solutions.

"As with most problems, it's not one simple thing," Ventura said. "Environmental design can be used to ward off crime, by making sure your entryway and windows aren't blocked off or concealed by signs or trees."

He added: "The Smokey Point McDonald's across the street had a number of trees and shrubs that were inviting to looters, so they cut down their underbrush to about knee-height, installed more lights and more cameras for their surveillance system."

To fend off homeless campers, Ventura suggested thorny plants, which can improve the place's appearance while making it uninviting for those wanting to sleep.

"A number of stores, like the Rite Aid at the corner, have retained private security," Ventura said. "If they've visible, they tend to discourage incidents. The Costco across I-5 has a receipt-checker, to watch folks coming and going, and make sure they're not shoplifting."

Ventura even recommended making customer restrooms key-accessible only, to prevent people from using drugs there. Another option is private security.

"Ultimately, though, it's not about what we as the police tell you to do, but what you as businesses find works for you," Ventura said. "We don't want to tell you how to run your business."

This is why Ventura recommended businesses talk with each other, either through email lists or community meetings, to share tips.

"The Smokey Point Lowe's is great for that," Ventura said. "They have a nice surveillance system, so when they get hit, they've actually called other stores to say, 'Hey look out for these guys,' and sent over photos of a car or a license plate or a person. It's like an early warning network."

The end of the month offers two meetings for businesses and the public to discuss this issue.

March 30 is a town hall meeting of the Arlington Crime Prevention League in the City Council Chambers, while March 31 is a Business Watch meeting of the ACPL at Life Church 360, at 313 Smokey Point Drive. Both meetings start at 6 p.m.

"I really subscribe to the broken window theory," Ventura said. "We didn't make this mess, but if we don't clean it up, it's only going to get worse. This is more than just crime prevention. I see it as a public health crisis."

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