People in Orting have every reason to be on edge. One of their own, Michael Compton, was murdered in his front yard two months ago after interrupting a burglary. His killer is still at large. Before that, an Orting man was severely beaten in front of his own business.
But some concerned citizens are taking things too far by patrolling the streets in their personal vehicles, keeping an eye out for what they refer to as the “rats” – more specifically, young people out at night.
Some teens doing nothing more than walking around have said they’ve been followed by the patrol. The group’s leader, Chris Hopfauf, admitted as much, posting on the Compton’s Crew Facebook page that “maybe (it’s) time to go stalk teenagers again.”
That kind of rhetoric smacks of vigilantism. We only hope that the crew members are not so foolish as to be armed when they’re on patrol. An older man following what he thinks is a suspicious-looking teenager? It isn’t hard to see this ending badly. In fact, it already has – with the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida.
Yes, teens were found guilty of assaulting Trailside Cyclery owner Brian Backus in October. And there have been other reports of young people getting into trouble. Unfortunately, that happens in a lot of places, not just Orting.
But the way to address that kind of problem is to be proactive – something the 24-year-old Safe Streets organization knows a thing or two about. Many Orting residents are interested in forming neighborhood watch groups with Safe Streets’ guidance (see box) and providing more recreational opportunities for teenagers. Some of Orting’s young people want to be involved with the solution; give them that chance. Not all of them, apparently, are “rats.”
Heading off problems before they become crimes is a better way to handle this situation than having untrained individuals trailing after young people who may just be walking down the street with no ill intentions. That’s a potential tragedy just waiting to happen.
Representatives from Safe Streets, the Orting Police Department and South Sound 911 will offer a neighborhood watch program at 1 p.m. May 17 in the Orting Public Safety Building, 401 Washington Ave. S.E.