Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan was the special guest at Wednesday’s regular meeting of the Edmonds Diversity Commission. Compaan was invited to discuss recent hate graffiti incidents, and address questions and concerns from the commissioners and audience.
His invitation was prompted by two recent crimes involving racist and hate graffiti that have drawn the interest of the community. The first occurred over the June 24-25 weekend, when swastikas and graffiti were painted on the Madrona School building. The second was on July 2, when a swastika was spray-painted on a Volkswagen automobile in the Westgate Chapel parking lot. While the Madrona incident remains under active investigation, an arrest has been made in the Westgate Chapel incident and the suspect is in custody.
Asked about the laws governing this type of crime, Compaan explained that laws against malicious harassment are designed to target offenses against specific individuals or groups, and that to charge someone with malicious harassment requires evidence that the victim was harassed due to such things as religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. If there is no evidence that a specific individual or group was targeted through the action (e.g., defacing a building, destroying or defacing property), the fallback charge is vandalism.
“I’m personally very troubled by these incidents,” Compaan said. “This is unacceptable behavior in our community, and we won’t tolerate it. We have made an arrest in the Westgate case. We’ve questioned the suspect, and at this point it appears that he was just mad at the world, didn’t know the car’s owner, and may have chosen to deface a VW with a swastika simply because it’s a German-made car. The lack of a specific person or group as a target makes this a vandalism case. We have also questioned him about the Madrona incident, and there appears to be no connection. That case remains open and we continue to seek the public’s help in looking for leads.”
Compaan made a strong point about the need for public support in identifying and apprehending not only these criminals, but all those who would commit crimes in the community.
“But for this to happen we need public trust, and it’s on us to build that,” he added. “Every chance I get I stress to our officers and staff that earning public trust is job one. But it’s not a given. We have to earn it every day, and we’re absolutely committed to doing what it takes.”
Asked about the fact that some people are reluctant to come forth with information due to a general distrust of government or law enforcement, and more recently out of fear that they may be questioned about their immigration status, Compaan was emphatic.
“We are interested in solving crimes and apprehending those who would commit crimes in our community,” he stressed. “We are absolutely not in the business of checking anyone’s immigration status, and will not engage in this. We are here to enforce the laws of our community and keep Edmonds a safe and welcoming place.”
In closing, Compaan reiterated the need for the public to be partners in law enforcement. “We need all Edmonds’ 40,000 citizens,” he said. “We simply can’t do our job without you.”
— Story and photo by Larry Vogel