Tacoma businesses fight for electric fences amid crime surge

Jul 5, 2023, 6:53 AM | Updated: 7:30 am

tacoma electric fence...

Electric fence around a Tacoma business (KIRO 7)

(KIRO 7)

Tacoma companies and businesses have pivoted to installing electric fences around their properties as a way to combat increasing levels of crime.

“The bottom line is there are multiple people within the city that are working on the front lines. They are overworked,” Michael Johnson, a board member for the South Tacoma Business District Association, told Jason Rantz on KTTH 770 AM. “They are handcuffed by bad policy and they are overwhelmed. I can throw a rock in any direction and hit a drug encampment, hit derelict RV’s that are pushing drugs, fencing stolen material, manufacturing drugs, and the human trafficking down here in Tacoma is beyond the pale.”

More from Tacoma: Tacoma business owner shares story after being robbed at gunpoint inside her convenience store

But despite the desperate pleas from business owners, Tacoma Planning Commission recommended the city council should deny a measure that would have expanded where businesses could use electric fences without seeking a permit variance. According to Jana Magoon, Tacoma’s Planning Manager, electric fences are currently only allowed in the industrial zoning district.

The number of electric fence permits jumped from eight to 25 in Tacoma over the last 18 months.

“A chain link fence is not going to stand up to a pair of stolen bolt cutters. It’s just not,” Johnson said. “So I mean, your next step is an electric fence. Is it effective? Certainly. From a business standpoint, do we want the façade of our business to look like San Quentin or Alcatraz North? What message does that say to our customers? What message does that say to our employees?

“You can only you can only afford so many losses before you have to shut your doors,” Johnson continued. “We’ve had multiple businesses, some of them have been down here over 50 years that have said ‘to hell with it’ and left. It is absolutely desperation. You can only go to your insurance company so many times.”

Tacoma has a total crime rate that is 109.9% higher than Washington state and 170.7% higher than the country, according to All Ready Moving’s February 2023 report. Tacoma’s violent crime rate is 843 per 100,000 people — 187% higher than the state’s rate and 117.4% higher than the country’s. The property crime rate in Tacoma is 5,507 per 100,000 people — 101.5% higher than Washington and 181.2% higher than the country.

According to the report, South Tacoma, Central, South End, and New Tacoma were areas with the most crime within the city.

“The perfect world scenario is you got to come up with some sort of involuntary commitment to get the people that are on the street the help they need,” Johnson said. “These are mentally ill people that have stopped taking their medicine and they’re self-medicating on meth, heroin, and fentanyl. The people in the camps are victims themselves. They’re getting victimized. I see it. These people need help.”

More from Tacoma: Tacoma aims to ban camping, storing belongings near temporary shelters

In addition to city-authorized encampment sweeps, the Tacoma City Council passed a ban on camping or public property within 10 blocks of the city’s temporary shelters last October, which went into effect Nov. 14. According to the city’s dashboard, Tacoma has removed 27 homeless encampments in 2023, just as many as last year.

“You can take $200 million out of the budget like they did two years ago and throw it at the problem and make sure that all of the homeless industrial complex non-profits are paying their board members outrageous salaries and driving Lexus,’ “Johnson added. “But we need that money on the ground. We need these people to get the help that they deserve and so rightfully need.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3 – 6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Tacoma businesses fight for electric fences amid crime surge