White Center Storefront Deputy BJ Myers on the beat in North Highline in late July. PLEASE CLICK THE IMAGE ABOVE OR SEE BELOW THE STORY FOR MORE.
Balancing Act: A day with White Center Storefront Deputy Myers
Reporter’s note: I met up with White Center Storefront Deputy BJ Myers in late July for a “ride-along,” wherein, after getting the OK from the King County Sheriff’s Office, I was allowed to tag along for a few hours to gain a better understanding of what a typical day in his world consists of and share it with our readers. What follows is my account of that two-hour adventure.
In August of 2011, the King County Council pulled $1.4 million from their Criminal Justice Reserve to combat gang activity in South King County, and part of that was used fund a storefront deputy position in White Center after it had been cut in 2010. When Deputy BJ Myers took the job in late 2011, he knew he was filling important shoes from those who had come before him, including Deputy Jeff Hancock and fallen Deputy Steve Cox, was fatally shot while on duty in 2006.
The position held by Cox, Hancock and now Myers is a delicate balance, alternating between tough and tender in dealing with public safety problems and promoting positive directions for the community.
Myers describes the position as, "Employing community oriented policing strategies to fight crime and the fear of crime."
In 2011, after a few months on the job, Myers told the Herald “I wanted to come into White Center and not impose my own view of what should happen here, and so when I first got here I just tried to listen, and I’m still trying to listen.”
Nearing two years as White Center’s go-to cop for anything from major crime to minor nuisance to personal problems, Myers is still listening and perfecting that balance of authority and support.
The sun was prominent on the afternoon of July 31 as I met up with Deputy Myers at Smoke Town on 16th Ave. S.W. in White Center. His shift had started a few hours earlier and, after sifting through emails from residents and looking at police reports from the night before for anything major to follow up on, he was making the rounds in the business district, talking with storefront owners about everything from public safety concerns to NFL Super Bowl favorites.
Next, it was into the streets for a stroll, and the customer service element of Myers job became quickly apparent. Like a scene out of Mayberry, nearly everyone we passed said hello to their neighborhood cop, and he in turn to them – knowing most on a first name basis.
“One thing he does good is he gets out and talks to all the people, from the so-called bums to everybody, right, and he wants to make the community better. He cares and he listens, and that’s very important.” White Center resident Roy Nunnenkamp said, adding that Myers has helped him with personal problems as well as legal ones.
Turning the corner from 16th and heading toward the bus stops at 15th and Roxbury, Myers said open container tickets have dropped dramatically along the 15th Ave. corridor in the past several months, largely thanks to King County Metro assigning one of their officers to spend more time there. Heading south, down 15th, we ran into Curtis “Detroit” Richard from SeaTac, who was in White Center for the day with his bucket and squeegee offering to clean business’ windows for $5.
“I’m not doing anything else, you know,” Richard said of his new job. “I ain’t gonna hold no sign, I ain’t going to panhandle, I ain’t going to sell no dope.”
“I like it,” Myers replied enthusiastically. “I need you to come out here and preach that to everyone else in this neighborhood.”
According to Myers, the biggest challenges facing White Center include “drug use amongst adults and juveniles, safety of children throughout the neighborhood, thefts (mail, vehicles, and personal property), public intoxication, (and) transient occupation of vacant buildings and public property.”
On the flipside, and it takes spending time in White Center to fully realize this, the area is also full of passionate and proud residents, business owners, and community and non-profit organizers from a vast array of cultural backgrounds. Most anyone living there will tell you the negative stereotypes do not accurately describe the culture, including a solid business district with a cornucopia of affordable dining options.
Further down 15th we ran into Coco and Merna, two White Center residents who told me they’ve battled drugs and alcohol addiction throughout much of their lives. Coco said Myers has always been respectful of her, even when he’s had to arrest her. Merna was excited to share with Myers that she was well on her way to getting photo identification so she could start looking for work.
“When communication breaks down, barriers arise,” Myers said of his face-to-face approach with everyone, from members of the transient population to community groups. Still, he said, there are times when he takes off the uniform and goes undercover to investigate potential drug houses or meet with confidential informants.
“He does a lot for people,” Diane said, referencing the homeless population. “These guys who don’t have nothing to eat, he brings them food. They need cigarettes, he brings them cigarettes. I think he’s cool.”
One of the more difficult parts of the job for Myers (and other deputies) in covering White Center is they get a lot of calls from residents who grow concerned when they see groups of transients congregating.
“These folks, right now, are not doing anything illegal,” Myers said as we approached a group tossing a football around at the corner of 15th and 100th St.
“It’s tough to find that balance between finding an orderly community without overstepping,” he explained. “It’s a tough neighborhood because we have people hanging out doing nothing amongst people hanging out doing drugs and other (illegal) things that we do have a concern about, so it’s difficult not to paint with too broad a brush.”
Heading north again on 16th, we were on our way back to Myers’ patrol car when he took a moment to step inside the Northwest Cannabis Farmers Market, a medical marijuana outlet where the smell of combusting pot emanates from windows on a near constant basis. His visit had nothing to do with the activities happening inside, however, but to speak with the manager about putting locks on their garbage because people were sifting through it regularly and making a mess of the alley.
To the squad car, with sports radio playing softly and occasional interruptions by the crackle of dispatch, we drove to 13th Ave. so Myers could show a lineup of eight potential suspects to a woman who had been beaten up recently. She had two black eyes, but was in good spirits as she looked over the faces – pinning one as the likely culprit but stopping short of saying she was the one for sure. Short of an absolute, Myers could only leave her with his information and let her know she could follow up with him at anytime.
Next on the agenda: a swing by North Shorewood Park where new playground equipment has been recently installed to make the diminutive green space more family friendly, but several recent reports of heroin use in the area are detracting from that allure.
On the way, Myers spotted two guys in an abandoned lot along 102nd, and two problems prompted a detour. First off, they were both openly enjoying tall boys of Hurricane Malt Liquor and, secondly, the owner of that lot had “No Trespassing” signs clearly posted.
All three knew each other on a first name basis, and the men were at ease as Myers broke the news that he would have to confiscate their beers and ask them to move along. The malt liquor was poured out into a bank of weeds and everyone went on with their day.
Driving past the tennis courts at Steve Cox Memorial Park, we came upon a peculiar sight. An eclectic group of homeless, those who had recently found housing, , those dealing with drug and alcohol addiction and those in recovery were all out playing tennis. We stopped briefly to talk with the group who, not surprisingly at this point, all knew Myers. “Rocker” told me they try to play at least twice a week and there is only one rule: no one brings beer inside the court.
The dispatch radio brought yet another diversion from the scheduled Shorewood Park stop as Metro officers had just spotted a suspect wanted by Seattle Police for indecent exposure involving an underage girl on a Metro bus. Sheriff’s deputies, Metro police and SPD converged on the suspect at 15th and Roxbury and he was taken into custody without incident.
The heroin users were nowhere to be seen at the park once we finally arrived (there were no families to be seen either), but in the life of a cop anything can come up at anytime.
As we approached the north side of the park and turned north onto 21st from 104th, a beat up white sedan flew by at higher than normal speeds, piquing Myers’ interest. He engaged reverse, spit back out onto 104th and came over the steeply angled hill headed east where, suddenly once we crested, the vehicle was gone. It all occurred in a split-second blur and Myers was unable to get a full license plate number (I, of course, hadn’t even thought to look). While searching a few side streets for the unknown character, he spotted a similar looking vehicle in the distance, and the driver had just blown through a stop sign.
We were in pursuit as Myers focused on the road ahead and caught up with the car after the driver ignored a second stop sign, travelling through the tight residential roads near Shorewood at a rapid clip. It became clear this wasn’t the same vehicle as before, but a stop was justified. It turned out the driver and his wife, who worked in the health care industry and were wearing scrubs, were criminally late for work. Myers listened to their story, checked the driver’s license (it was clear) and decided to let them off with a warning after a promise to slow down.
As my time in the world of a deputy was coming to an end, around 4 p.m., Myers made a quick sojourn across the city line into West Seattle along Delridge Way S.W. Nearing a bus stop along the way, crowded around a bench, were several of the people we’d ran into earlier in the day. There appeared to be open containers and Myers rolled down his window to instruct them to disperse and throw away their beers. One of the culprits was the same man he had kicked out of the vacant lot with Hurricane malt liquor at his side earlier in the day.
Myers ran his name through the in-car computer and two warrants came back. As the group made their way back to White Center, Myers pulled up, stepped out and said, “(Redacted), I’ve got bad news. You’ve got a warrant man.”
As Myers explained the warrants were for theft, he handed the suspect a cigarette from his car (Myers doesn’t smoke, but keeps a pack around to help build trust), cuffed him, and allowed a friend to give him a light. The suspect’s friends, instead of berating Myers for taking their cohort away, simply asked if there was anything they could do for him while he was in jail.
There seemed to be a clear understanding illustrated by the group in that moment: Their friend had likely broken the law and Myers – no matter how understanding he may be – still had a job to do.
It is the balancing act of a White Center Storefront Deputy.
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