Dear Renton Police Department,
You don’t know me, so please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Matt. I’m a 36-year-old single man who lives in the Cascade neighborhood of Renton. I work a full-time job in the tech industry during the day, and spend my evening and weekends running a small home business I own.
Last fall, I decided it was finally time for me to buy my first house. After weeks of looking I found a lovely remodeled home not far from Lindburgh High School. It was further from work than I wanted to be, but it was in my price range. So, last September, I bought the house, refinished the hardwood floors, moved in, and started fixing up the yard and surrounding property.
I was raised to be a good neighbor. I mow my lawn and rake my leaves. I pick up the trash on the sidewalk while I’m out and about. I pick up my dog’s droppings on our walks around the neighborhood. I even pick up the droppings that other owners didn’t pick up. I continue to improve the lawn and flower beds around my property, because I take pride in keeping up my first home. I try to be a good citizen, in short.
Since moving in a year and a half ago, however, I have been the target of several instances of vandalism and attempted theft. And, despite my repeated attempts, I haven’t gotten much traction from your staff. I know how things can slip through the cracks or get de-prioritized, so allow me to lay out my story for you so you can see where I’m coming from.
It started a little over a year ago. I came home from work to find that someone had hopped the 6-foot privacy fence and into my back yard. That person then threw a paving stone through my sliding glass door–presumably in an effort to steal my belongings. Fortunately, my dog scared off the would-be robbers. When I walked into my house after work that evening, I found my dog sitting on top of a pile of broken glass, standing guard over the entry. (He got an ice cream cone from Dairy Queen that night.)
I called the police department, and they sent out an officer who looked around, expressed sympathy, and left me a police report with a case number on it. She didn’t fill it out, she didn’t sign it. She just left it with me (and I would come to find out later, probably never even filed it.) I eventually paid nearly $1,000 to get the sliding glass door replaced and installed, and another $1,000 to install a high-tech security system that I could monitor from my office.
For months, nothing happened. Then, one Saturday morning in July, I left my house in the morning for a run only to discover this:
My fence had been graffitied. I contacted the City of Renton’s Graffiti Hotline, as the website asked. I took photos, and on the message I left, I asked for an email address or means of providing the photos I had taken to the department’s Graffiti Specialist. I never received so much as a single response. I then spent $350 on a power washer, and another $100 on tools and chemicals to clean off the paint. Of course, the chemicals themselves stained the wood on my new fence, so this summer, I’m going to have to spend another $100 or so for the materials to stain my fence to cover up the damage from the Graffiti.
Again, for a few months, nothing happened. Then, as I was leaving my house early one October morning to meet a date for coffee, I got into my car and noticed that it had been tossed. The glove box had been emptied, the trunk was partially ajar, and the passenger side door wasn’t fully shut. Normally, I always lock my car immediately after getting out, but I suppose it’s possible I forgot that one time. Fortunately, whether or not the car was locked, there was no damage to the car, nor was there anything stolen (because I don’t leave valuables in my car.) This time I didn’t bother calling the police since, based on my previous experience, I didn’t expect any response worthy of the effort. However, I did buy some electrical wiring and a motion-detecting light, and installed it in my driveway.
Then, in March of this year, I took the dog out for a walk before work and found this:
During the night, someone had come and broken several of the rails on the fence that runs along the East and South sides of my property. I collected all of the broken lumber and put it in my back yard to get it out of the way. It was jagged, and had rusty nails sticking out of it, and I didn’t want anyone getting hurt. Then I called the Renton Police Department. Non-emergency asked me to fill out the online form, which I did. Several days later, I received an email with a case number. There was no contact, there was no phone call, nothing. It was fast becoming clear that the RPD simply didn’t care.
I posted the above tweet shortly after filing the online report. I was getting fed up. I’m a good citizen. I pay my taxes. I work to improve the neighborhood. I maintain my property. Hell, I don’t even speed when I drive. None of my other neighborhoods were getting targeted like this. What made me such a special case? I began to suspect I knew the answer: the bus stop that sat along the southern edge of my property was one of the other differences between my neighbors’ houses and mine.
After posting the above tweet, I got a nice email from the department’s community coordinator. She was very understanding, and asked for additional clarification about what had been going on. She was having difficulty tracking down the various reports I had made on the break-in and graffiti, so I provided her with the case numbers and photos I had taken. She responded that she would request an increase in presence for the neighborhood. She also connected me with the Neighborhood Watch coordinator and with the graffiti specialist (neither of whom I ever heard from.)
A few days after that, I came home from work to find that several more rails of my fence had been kicked down. I again moved the broken lumber into the back yard and sent another email to the community coordinator, letting her know that more vandalism had occurred. The next morning, even more of my fence had been kicked down, making it now more than half of my fence that the vandal in question had destroyed.
That night, I bought an 8-camera, night-vision capable, high-definition surveillance system with an attached DVR. I ran wires and attached so many cameras to the outside of my house that the only way to approach my house without being caught on camera is to be dropped onto the roof by helicopter. (Cost, $600). Then I bought the lumber and hardware to repair my fence, which I had to do by taking a day of work. (Cost of materials and tools: $350 + the cost of a day’s lost wages.) I, understandably, became extremely paranoid, and have been living in a state of heightened readiness for the last several weeks.
I began monitoring my surveillance cameras every morning when I would get up, and several times through the day. I keep most of the cameras pulled up on my computer at work to keep an eye on things while I’m at my desk. During all my increased paranoia, I’ve noticed a couple of suspicious-looking activities. But nothing worth getting too worried about.
However, there is one man who seemed suspicious. He regularly takes the 5:00AM bus toward Downtown. It’s not every day, but at least a few times a week. He doesn’t wait at the bus stop, but instead stands in the middle of the street bouncing around and talking to himself. (Or so it appears from my silent footage.) I have been keeping an eye on him. Something in my gut told me that this was the guy who had kicked down my fence.
Then, this last Tuesday morning, I went out to my back yard and noticed a child’s bicycle sitting in the middle of my flower bed. Realizing that I probably knew exactly what happened, I went back inside, pulled up the security system DVR, and saw this:
Followed by this:
This young man takes a (pretty clearly) stolen bicycle, rides it up to the bus stop, waits for a car to pass, then throws the bicycle over the top of a nearly 7-foot-high security fence. Just because.
After I got this information, I contacted the Renton Police Department that morning when I got to work. I had the stolen bicycle in my position, as well as high-def footage of the probable thief disposing it. I was asked to call back in when I got home, so they could come and pick up the bike and the footage, so I did. When I called in that evening, I had to rehearse the entire story again (there was no record of my previous call, apparently), and told that an office would contact me to pick up the bike and the footage. Unsurprisingly, I never heard from anyone.
Then, when checking my cameras again this morning, I saw this:
My interpretation: this relatively large man climbed my newly-repaired fence (which is not built to support that kind of weight), and looked over my privacy fence into my back yard to see if the bike was still there (it was.) He then proceeded to scope out the rest of my yard. Then he looked back into the cameras and said something. (My cameras don’t capture audio.) Then he hopped down off the fence, and walked out into the middle of the street to wait for the bus, which he boarded about a minute and a half later. No real crime was committed, but for someone who has already been through so much in such a short amount of time, it set off warning bells for me. And made me mad.
In the unlikely event that anyone at the Renton Police Department reads this, I rehearse this story because I need some help. In the last year and a half, I have spent far too much time, and thousands of dollars to protect my property. I love my house. I want to stay in my house. I’m the kind of resident you want in Renton. I not only pay my taxes, but I own a business and bring in additional income that way. But I am getting worn down. I don’t want to have to wake up every morning and scope my property to see what someone has done to it. I understand that occasional vandalism or theft happens. I do. But I also know it doesn’t usually happen seven or eight times to the same person in a 14-month period.
I don’t know what else to do: I’ve installed cameras, I’ve installed lights. I’ve replaced broken stuff. I’ve contacted the police. I’ve contacted the King County Metro authorities. I’m trying to get a child’s stolen bicycle back to him. I’ve been talking with my neighbors. I’m chatting with our neighborhood watch leader. I’m maintaining my property and trying to prove that I’m not going to take this kind of behavior laying down. What else can do I?
Is my only response to wake up each morning at 4:45 and monitor my surveillance system until the man who is at the bus stop three times at a week at 5:00 actually does something, then rush outside to confront him? And should I be taking mace or a gun with me when I do? What else is left to me? And if I do go confront him, and it gets out of hand, what then?
I already have video of him discarding a stolen bike. I already have video of him “trespassing.” I have seen video of him scoping out my house, looking for all of my cameras. I would be willing to bet dollars to donuts that he’s the same person who kicked down my fence and tossed my car for valuables (although I can’t prove it.)
So, Renton Police Department, please help me. I would like to live my life and be a productive citizen. I’d like to save those thousands of dollars I’m spending to repair stuff that people are breaking for fun. I get it, I really do. You’re probably over-worked and under-paid. You can’t be everywhere at once. In the grand scheme of things, these crimes are “small potatoes.” Nobody is shooting at me or beating me up. Nobody has stolen my car yet. Or burgled my house.
So what can I do? How can I improve the situation? How can we work together to stop the small stuff before it becomes big stuff? Because otherwise, I’m just going to up and move, and I can guarantee you that you won’t get someone moving in who cares as much as I do. And that would be a shame.
UPDATE: After posting this, I was contacted via Twitter from the community coordinator at the Renton Police Department. We are planning to meet up next week to discuss the situation and potential next steps. While I still wish the response from the rest of the force would have been a bit more, well, responsive, I’m grateful for Terri willingness to engage and hopefully we’ll be able to get this issue resolved.