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South Tacoma businessman says crime is 'a daily thing'

By Jon Williams

Dignity City editor

Mario Lorenz doesn’t like to complain. It goes against his nature.

Known throughout the community for often wearing a Willy Wonka-style top hat, the ebullient businessman who directs the South Tacoma Business District Association would rather spend his time telling jokes to an audience at a comedy club or working with the community to revive the Hilltop Street Fair, than talking about a spike in crime.

But, he says, “Crime is big in South Tacoma. It’s like a daily thing.”

During normal years, it’s just causes frustration and anger, he said. “But it’s almost gone beyond that. It finally came to a peak last year in October. The business people just got so fed up with what they perceived as the city’s lack of attention, the county’s lack of attention and the state’s inability to offer any help.”

Referring to the businesses in South Tacoma, Lorenz said, “When we thought we were coming out of the pandemic, the crime was just going crazy. People were just angry.”

So Lorenz did what he loves doing: He brought people together.

“We called a summit in December and we got 60 or 70 business people to show up.” The Crime and Safety Summit was held at the Asian Pacific Cultural Center, he said. “When you can get that many people together who have businesses, that’s not ordinary.”

More recently, the Tacoma Business Council had question-and-answer sessions with new Police Chief Avery Moore to discuss the issue citywide. Business owners questioned the slow response times and visual absence of Tacoma’s officers on the streets.

Lorenz assesses the problem similarly. He sees crime skyrocketing because of a lack of policing. “It’s not because police don’t want to do it,” he said. “They’re about 50 officers short.”

“Besides that,” he said, “during the pandemic they had problems taking people to jail — those were the criminals they did catch.”

Lorenz said the officers were practicing “catch and release” policing. And that emboldens criminals.

After the South Tacoma summit, the community decided to hire a security company to patrol the district. “We think that’s been helpful,” said Lorenz. “They can’t do anything other than call the police. But they’ve had an impact, which is what we’re looking for.

“We had to do something,” he said.

Lorenz is pragmatic. “There’s always been crime,” he said. And he’s optimistic. “The new chief looks good. Maybe it will start to slow the problem down.”

Regarding homelessness and crime, Lorenz “has no doubt” that there’s a connection between camps and crime. But he noted the tiny house village run by the Low Income Housing Institute near him isn’t a problem.

“We had tiny homes blocks from our own house and they were no trouble,” he said.

Is there a solution to rising crime rates that would make business people happy?

“If police could arrest [the criminals],” he said, “then take them to jail and could hold them, that would help. But a lot of the police are gone. And the county, who runs the jail, doesn’t have the staff to hold them.”

As far as solving homelessness, Lorenz has some ideas but is unsure of what might work.

“There’s an encampment two blocks from my house at 11th and L streets. There are 50 or 60 tents. They want to put a festival there, but where are they [the campers] going to go?

“It’s not an easy solution,” he said. “Basically, it’s just kicking the can down the road if they don’t have a place for them to go.”

He looks to local, state and federal governments to open up land to sanctioned encampments. He points to unused military barracks and space at or around the state hospital. He also suggests that local government should buy up housing and take it off the market to make it affordable.

“They call this a crisis, but they don’t treat it like a crisis,” he said.

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