'There needs to be recourse': Deputies have limited options in White Center vandalism cases

Many of the storefronts are boarded up in the business corridor of White Center due to vandalism in recent months.

Senior Deputy Bill Kennamer of the King County Sheriff’s Office told Q13 News about 85 calls have come in for vandalism and burglaries since April 2020.

"When you walk down the street and you see all the boarded up windows it makes it look like the neighborhood is in blight and it’s not," said Deputy Kennamer, who is also the White Center Community Crime Prevention deputy. "If we’re standing right here, some guy comes up here and throws a brick right through that window, I can’t book that person to go to jail. It’s a misdemeanor crime. The only things we can book into King County Jail right now are domestic violence misdemeanors or DUI."

Deputy Kennamer has 23 years of service with the sheriff’s office and said the repeated incidents of vandalism and burglaries are just as personal and frustrating to him as it is to the businesses that are targeted.

"We need to be able to book people in to jail. There needs to be recourse for people’s behavior and their bad actions," said Deputy Kennamer.

More than 20 businesses in White Center have been vandalized, and many of them have been targeted multiple times over the course of several months.

Pho Thu Thuy is a family-run Vietnamese restaurant that has been in business for 15 years. Trisha Tran’s parents own the restaurant and say the family never had any issues until six weeks ago when the restaurant was vandalized and burglarized. About $200 was stolen and a few thousand dollars have gone toward repairs.

"I just feel really bad for my parents. I want to protect them, but I feel like there’s not much I can do to protect them and to prevent this from happening again," said Tran.

Macadons was vandalized five times since December, and surveillance video shows that it’s likely the same person committing the crime.

The latest incident also involved a burglary, which is considered a felony, and last week owner Donna Chan was able to get video footage of the suspected vandal’s face.

"Getting the awareness out there that there are systemic issues that are happening in our city," said Chan.

Now that there’s video evidence of the suspected vandal’s face, Kennamer said a case will be filed for vandalism and burglary this week.

"We are ignoring decades and decades and decades of the ‘broken window theory’ where if you take care of the little things the bigger things won’t be as big. There will be less of them, but it seems like we’re not doing that right now. Quite literally we have broken windows," said Kennamer.

Chan plans to replace Macadons windows with a stronger polycarbonate material, but it’s costly at about $1,600 per window. 

"It’s unbreakable, so we’re going to look into that and I’ve also gathered up a bunch of business owners who are going to look into getting that type of window," said Chan.

Law enforcement said the repeated crimes are usually connected to behavioral health issues. 

In White Center, deputies said the only resource available at the moment is the critical response team with the King County Public Health Department. The sheriff’s office is working on getting the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program in White Center by the end of May.

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