TUKWILA, Wash. - It’s the kind of tourism that no community wants—out-of-towners coming to a south King County city to do one thing: shoplift.
Tukwila Police Department said thieves ransacking local stores is the top crime officers are responding to lately. Now, they are conducting emphasis patrols to deter would-be criminals.
The department said the targeted area is near Andover Park West, between Tukwila Parkway and Strander Boulevard. The surrounding businesses include Southcenter Mall, Target and local shops. The thieves, who police said are not Tukwila residents, come to the area to do drugs, steal merchandise and then resell it on the streets for cash.
"It’s every single day they’re walking out with bags and bags. They just come in and fill it up and walk out," said Amanda Stempniak, a manager at Dollar Tree. "We have quite a few violent ones. Our actual store manager was punched in the face about a week ago or so, all because she was asking him to leave and trying to get the merchandise back."
Tukwila Police Department says they are cracking down on the issue. For several weeks, officers have been conducting emphasis patrols to catch and arrest multiple crooks, including some with active warrants. The department also installed cameras in parking lots at stores like Target to monitor shoplifters.
Police said they have recovered thousands of dollars of stolen merchandise—from hard alcohol, to televisions, laundry detergent and clothing. Police also recovered guns, ammunition and drugs like fentanyl, meth and oxycodone intended to be used or distributed.
The police department said it received 573 reports for shoplifting in 2021. Not even six months into 2022, there are already close to 400 reports. Beauty Master is one of the businesses targeted by criminals; managers said thieves tend to prey on them at night.
"When I feel dangerous, I get out. I lock the door outside and I call the police," said June Kim of Beauty Master.
The staff installed metal detectors and surveillance cameras at the store to protect their products. Some merchandise has locks on them.
"But sometimes [it] doesn’t matter. They took off and run out," said Kim.
The department said there has been a significant drop of people loitering in the area, thanks to the emphasis patrols. Police said they are receiving fewer reports of thefts and drug use.
Some store managers said they think the criminal activity has a clear correlation to the increasing amount of people experiencing homelessness and drug abuse.
"They’re stealing all of those big items, but they’re not stealing just to have it in their house. They’re stealing it to sell it to get a hotel room, to be able to get food, to be able to buy cigarettes or their addiction and all of those things," said Stempniak. "If we could just get those things taken care of for them—get them into some housing, get them into some treatment centers, I bet you we’d find a whole lot less crime."