Wait’s Motel fire sparks talk on city crime rate
EVERETT — Late night on the Fourth of July, a fire likely caused by illegal fireworks at the disreputable Wait’s Motel on 13th Street.
The motel fire and persistent crime activities at the Wait’s sparked a conversation on overall city crime at last week’s City Council meeting.
Stephanie Larson, a resident of north Everett, wrote to City Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher that if Larson had not stayed home that evening, she fears she would have ended up with three burnt cars from embers spreading the fire in the vicinity.
“What a joke,” Larson wrote of the efforts to cut back the Wait’s Motel’s perpetual crime rate. Larson estimates there have been 70 to 100 nuisance calls against the motel in the past 12 months. Larson lives across the street.
Stonecipher read Larson’s letter aloud and then lamented on overall crime in Everett.
Stonecipher cited a study that shows Everett has the highest crime rate per 1,000 population of any comparable city. Oddly, the same study showed Everett also has the largest police force by population.
“It raises questions,” Stonecipher said. “These are questions that we have been talking a lot about over the years about crime in the neighborhood and I know we have a lot of factors that play a role in it. What do we need to do differently to get our arms around this.”
The FBI’s crime incident reporting logs showed a decrease for most crime types in Everett from mid-2012 to mid-2013 compared to mid-2011 to mid-2012, although the FBI warns its statistics are by no means absolute.
Though much of Everett’s crime is property crime, Stonecipher said that Everett is also high on violent crime, and requested the Police Department give a crime report by next month.
“This continues to destroy the neighborhoods,” she said, adding, “It really limits the type of development we can have here because this environment gives the sense it’s not a good place to invest money in, spend your time or that it’s not a safe place to live.”
The first step is recognizing what the problem is, Stonecipher said.
Mayor Ray Stephanson shared his hope that the city’s new task force on homelessness will help with crime and street-level issues in Everett.
The first Street Initiatives Task Force meeting will be Thursday, July 24 from 3 to 6 p.m. at Everett Station, Stephanson said. The group will meet every other week for several weeks, he said.
“These street issues are very, very complicated issues, as we all know,” he said. “We will be looking at that.”
The Wait’s Motel fire letter brought several Northwest Neighborhood residents to speak up on crime in their neighborhood.
Neighborhood chair Shelley Weyer says she feels helpless when her neighbors tell her about crime problems in her neighborhood.
“I’m not a policewoman,” she said. “I’m not the law but they look to us.”
Her husband Greg Weyer said in the five years he’s lived in Everett, he’s had $500 worth of tools stolen from his car and a $250 window busted. Both his kids have also had their cars broken into.
But the most troubling was the attitude from police, he said.
“Some police officers try to help, and some just say ‘Oh, well, you live in Everett, that’s going to happen,’” he said.
New Police Chief Dan Templeman said dismissing crime in Everett is unacceptable.
“We will not, as police officers and the police department, tolerate crime,” he said.
In the past three years, the Police Department has started many new tools to combat crime.
In addition to creating a burglary reduction team and concentrated patrols, the department also uses a nuisance abatement process for the city’s most troublesome properties.
Everett municipal code states that any property with three nuisance activities in a 60-day period or seven nuisance activities per year can be considered a nuisance property.
Though Larson’s letter says the Wait’s Motel has had far more than seven calls to the property in the past year, Templeman said that it’s not so simple. There are certain crime qualifications that must be met to qualify the property as a nuisance in order to preserve the rights of the property owner.
Councilman Paul Roberts sympathized with affected residents.
“We don’t have the tools legally to move on these properties,” he said. “We legally cannot shut them down in the way that, frankly, I think we should.”
The Police Department did force a troublesome north Broadway motel, the Best Inn, to shut down in 2012 using abatement tools. At the time, police said they were working with the Wait’s Motel’s owners.
Northwest Neighborhood resident Nancy Hecht argued that the Wait’s Motel does not necessarily need to get shut down if the owners behave responsibly, but she faced opposition when talking with its owner.
“I would love to have it shut down, but that might not be possible, so they have to have responsible owners that are going to take care of the grounds and take care of their customers,” she said. “There must be a reason why he gets away with this. We’ve talked to everyone and tried everything.”
She went into Wait’s Motel after the fire to ask if the owner was planning on cleaning up the mess. He told her that it’s his property so he can do what he wants with it.
The Wait’s Motel has few online reviews and has a one-star rating, the lowest possible, on Trip Advisor and yelp.com.
The motel also had a bad reputation that may since have been cleaned up.
Online, reviewers complained about cleanliness and poor customer service at the motel and one Yelp reviewer warns travelers about “tweakers” (methamphetamine users) on the property.