Alarmed by a reported increase in car prowling, petty thefts and burglary attempts in Bremerton’s neighborhood district 4, about 20 citizens gathered at the First Christian Church on Veneta Ave. on Saturday morning for a meeting organized by city councilor Tony Hillman.
Neighbors reported a rise in suspicious behavior either witnessed or captured on home surveillance systems, like Ring, at the community gathering. Many said they post accounts or video footage of suspicious activity to Facebook, on public groups like Union Hill Neighborhood Association and Bremerton Crime Watch.
“My car got raided last night,” one recent post to the Union Hill group states. “Everything stolen that was of importance. 9th and Valencia.”
Bremerton Police Department Capt. Randy Plumb led the meeting along with Sgt. Todd Byers. Mayor Greg Wheeler and Emily Randall, a candidate for state senate, were in attendance.
“I understand your complaints,” Plumb said to those gathered around tables in the second floor church meeting room. “I’ve received a lot of them.”
Police provided a “heat map” to attendees that showed 45 reports of burglary, criminal trespass, theft or car prowling since August in councilor Hillman’s district, whose borders range from Warren Ave. to Naval Ave.
“There’s been an uptick in car prowling,” Hillman said. “There’s also been some minor theft.”
Some attendees reported seeing suspicious activity on a regular basis in their neighborhood, like people lifting car door handles at night, casing houses or what seemed like drug activity.
Nicholas Howell said his car was broken into recently and his auto repair tools were taken.
“I spent 250 hours of my life for those tools,” he said. “That’s not right.”
On November 13, the Sound of Life Church on 9th street was burglarized, and a safe was reported stolen. Other incidents reported by police included motor vehicle thefts, residential burglaries and three bicycle thefts over the past four months.
Whether criminal activity has been increasing in the neighborhood – or whether reports of it have – was contemplated by the group, with no clear answer.
“Either everyone’s just getting the idea to go on the Facebook page and tell everyone, or there’s just an actual uptick right now,” Jaime Forsyth said.
Plumb and Byers asked that residents continue to report suspicious behavior, make video recordings and even note license plate numbers on suspicious vehicles near their homes.
“Reporting is key for us to understand the magnitude of the problem,” he said.
Some attendees wondered whether law enforcement solutions were enough to address the problem of petty crime in Bremerton. Plumb said the vast majority of thefts are, in his experience as a former narcotics detective, spurred by drug addiction. Multiple attendees noted endemic poverty and homelessness in the city.
“The problem is twofold,” Darryl Riley said. “You have a homelessness situation. Most of these people breaking into cars are looking for someplace warm, or looking to get something to eat.”
“Now I’m not saying that’s OK,” he added, “but it changes how we are going to attack this.”
“They’re in this situation for a reason,” Melinda Hughes said. She mentioned organizations like Kitsap Strong that are “working not just to go after somebody, but to say, ‘What put them in this situation in the first place, and what can we do in the community to support them?’”
Wheeler said he acknowledged the struggles of those who would commit crimes, but said that his responsibility as mayor is to support law enforcement.
“We have to address illegal behavior,” he said.
He offered a solution to the problem: two new police positions in next year’s budget. In the meantime, he would deploy more bike cops in the neighborhood.
“Even if we have to work overtime,” he said. “We can just stomp this out.”