Neighbors meet to fight crime

EVERETT – Patricia Johnston dished out neighborhood advice Tuesday along with big scoops of chocolate, vanilla and cookie-dough ice cream.

“If we know each other and work together, there’s quite a bit each family can do to feel safer,” said Johnston, who hosted the Port Gardner neighborhood’s National Night Out Against Crime celebration Tuesday at Kiwanis Park.

The celebration was one of dozens throughout Snohomish County on Tuesday evening for the 21st annual National Night Out Against Crime.

Nationwide, the event involved more than 10,000 communities. More than 34 million people were expected to participate.

Hundreds of neighbors across the county came together at cookouts, picnics and block parties to meet each other and discuss crime problems.

Some, such as Jeanette Merkey of Everett, said they came because they were worried about recent arsons in north Everett.

She and her husband sought advice from firefighters at the Everett Mall event.

“There’s a whole lot of us who don’t have anywhere to go if something like that happens,” she said. “We have to protect ourselves.”

On Sunday, arson damaged two apartments in an Everett building. No one was hurt in the fire. Investigators say it’s too early to know whether the blaze is related to eight arsons set in north Everett since June 1.

Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Tuesday they haven’t ruled out a connection between the Everett fires and a string of Seattle fires set this week.

Knowing your neighbors and teaming up to watch for suspicious activity is the most effective way to prevent arson, said Chuck Wright, a former member of the Sno-King Arson Response Team, a task force that nabbed serial arsonist Paul Kenneth Keller.

“A lot of people are hesitant to go up to a stranger to say, ‘Hello,’” said Wright, who attended the National Night Out celebration at McCollum Park and gets together with his Mill Creek neighbors about four times a year.

“That’s the best tool you have to protect you and your neighbors. Just walk up and say hi.”

He’s confident that watchful neighbors and fire investigators will stop the arsons.

“The community is getting more and more nervous, but they need to know that this person is going to be caught,” he said.

Reporter Katherine Schiffner: 425-339-3436 or schiffner@heraldnet.com.

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