Customers walk in and out of Fred Meyer along Evergreen Way on Monday, in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Customers walk in and out of Fred Meyer along Evergreen Way on Monday, in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Store managers in Everett plead for help with crime, public safety

Two Fred Meyer stores report theft, drug use and threats, despite increased security and presence from Everett police.

EVERETT — Managers of two Everett Fred Meyer stores appealed to the City Council for help last week, saying they have seen the areas surrounding their stores become increasingly dangerous despite ongoing attempts from law enforcement to manage long-running public safety complaints.

David Webster, manager of the Fred Meyer store at 12906 Bothell-Everett Highway, said in the public comment portion of the Oct. 26 meeting that a bus stop near his store had become “an unsafe dumping ground” for drug paraphernalia and stolen goods. People frequently load up backpacks full of stolen store merchandise, then discard unwanted products near the bus stop and leave with the rest, he said. Employees and customers report seeing needles from drug use and garbage scattered around the stop, he told council members.

Webster also reported several employees have had cars stolen or vandalized in the store’s parking lot, and claimed that one employee was abducted while in the lot. John DeRousse, a spokesperson for the Everett Police Department, told The Daily Herald in an email he has been unable to verify the abduction claim via 911 call records.

Despite increased store security and safety measures, Webster said he gets customer complaints regularly about illicit drug use and theft.

“We have asked Everett PD for help, but we have had no luck keeping this area clean consistently,” Webster told the council. “Our customers see that and ask us about it all the time, and I think it reflects really poorly on our community.”

Tyler Stumpf, manager of the Fred Meyer at 8530 Evergreen Way in Everett, echoed Webster’s concerns about theft and apparent drug use outside his store to the council. Stumpf reported an “open-air drug market” in a vacant former bank adjacent to the store parking lot and claimed people often steal goods from his store as payment to dealers operating there.

Open drug use regularly occurs in the store’s bathrooms, Stumpf said, and customers often find used needles and other paraphernalia around the store. He said people visibly struggling with mental illness or addiction regularly hang out in the parking lots. After an incident involving a man reportedly wielding two knives in the lot, Stumpf said law enforcement didn’t respond to calls.

DeRousse said he met with Stumpf and Webster immediately following the City Council meeting to learn more about their concerns. On Thursday, he said the managers were set to meet with an officer from Everett Police Department’s south precinct to discuss solutions moving forward.

Webster could not be reached by The Daily Herald for further comment. Stumpf declined the Herald’s request for comment, citing corporate policy.

In an email statement to the Herald on Friday, a spokesperson for Fred Meyer’s corporate office said the Everett stores had taken action to address the concerns by increasing security and taking additional steps to keep the store and its surroundings clean.

“Our stores remain committed to providing a safe and clean shopping environment for our customers, associates and the communities that we serve,” the statement said. “We are seeking support from The City and local police to help ensure the community has safe access to food and essential goods.”

DeRousse said he believes the problems Stumpf and Webster reported can be attributed to a “small segment” of the area’s unhoused population who participate in criminal activity and often are dealing with mental health issues or addiction. But there are often little to no easily accessible resources law enforcement can point people toward, DeRousse said.

Police have long been aware of safety concerns regarding these groups in the areas near the store locations, and have worked to address the issue by assigning overtime patrols who can support regular beat officers, DeRousse said. He said the extra patrols have been effective in making arrests when needed and, occasionally, moving groups to other locations.

Everett PD’s Community Outreach and Enforcement Team works to connect people with help in addition to addressing safety concerns, and embedded social workers on the team help to improve outreach, DeRousse said. But he said these groups are “transient in nature,” frequently moving between locations when police enforcement operations occur. This can make connecting people with services to help them find housing or health care especially difficult.

“We believe that enforcement creates a certain level of displacement, but within that are opportunities for people to accept services or find other ways to improve their situations,” DeRousse said. “In our experience this group has been highly resistant to services when they are offered.”

Robert Smiley, founder of Edmonds-based homelessness advocacy group The Hand Up Project, said in an interview Thursday he’s sometimes struggled with the same roadblocks when his organization has reached out to that segment of the unhoused population.

Smiley’s approach involves a long-term investment in clients, he said. Hand Up connects with clients living on the streets, often through the Community Outreach and Enforcement team, and gets them into detox the same day if needed. Smiley said housing and assistance with employment and health care are guaranteed by the organization as long as clients remain accountable and committed to the group’s rules. The program works when clients are willing to engage, Smiley said. But his organization has limited resources, and people often face barriers — internal and external — to taking advantage of his services.

“A lot of folks want help, but the first priority is trying to eat,” Smiley said. “Sometimes the priority is getting their next fix, and sometimes they don’t want help because they’re afraid of the police or afraid of getting sober.”

The problem is not confined to Fred Meyer locations, Smiley said. He sees plenty of other big-box chains dealing with similar situations because they’re easily accessible to those seeking food, shelter and supplies, even if that means stealing.

“You can’t arrest your way out of the problem,” Smiley said. “There are several issues being lumped together that create this big problem, and one or the other needs to be addressed before the rest can be resolved.”

Riley Haun: 425-339-3192; riley.haun@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @RHaunID.

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