by: Henry Rosoff Updated:
SEATTLE - A repeat felon is charged with breaking into special boxes only firefighters are supposed to have access to, and using the master keys inside to burglarize apartments across the city. The crimes are expected to cost Seattle more than a half million dollars.
Norman Bottem is charged with obtaining a special “shaved key” that gave him access to "Knox boxes" in Seattle. Knox boxes, named for the company that makes them, are outside apartment complexes and are only supposed to be opened in the event of an emergency by a key the Seattle Fire Department keeps with its trucks. Inside the boxes are master keys to the apartment building that allow firefighters to get into all the common areas.
According to court documents, Bottem somehow got a “shaved key,” which can open a knox box, and used it to steal from the Neptune Apartments off Dexter Avenue, the Prescott in Wallingford, and the Tuscany Apartments off Eastlake Avenue. He's accused of doing this while waiting to be sentenced for theft.
Police say there were 40 of the knox box-style burglaries in the last few months, even though the firefighters told police "no keys are missing." Police have not charged Bottem in the entire burglary string.
Police say Bottem was captured on video accessing Knox boxes, and when they searched his own apartment they found "numerous keys, key buffing equipment, locksmith tools, stolen property from other Knox box burglaries, as well as an actual Knox box stolen from a building," according to court documents.
Whether or not you live in a big building, authorities say this problem will cost Seattleites tax dollars. In court documents, prosecutors said the “the Seattle Fire Department is in the process of re-keying all the boxes, at an expense of over $500,000.”
Thurday, after the KIRO 7 aired a story about the Knox boxes, the Seattle Fire Department released a statement that did not address why boxes that could be opened by a criminal were installed across the city.
“The Seattle Fire Department is cooperating with the Seattle Police Department in an ongoing burglary investigation involving Knox Box building keys. Immediately after learning of the thefts, the Seattle Fire Department contacted building managers who reported burglaries to discuss security options for protecting their property. All of the Seattle Fire Department keys are accounted for and in the Department's possession.”
The Seattle Fire Department is currently working with the Knox Box company to evaluate solutions, including improved technology, which would reduce the likelihood of future security concerns.”
Bottem, who has not been employed as a Seattle firefighter, had a lengthy criminal history that includes felony convictions for theft, burglary, vehicle theft, and attempted possession of stolen property, court documents show. He also has multiple drug convictions.
A spokesman for the Seattle Fire Department did not yet return calls or an email seeking comment about the burglaries. Bottem is expected to have an arraignment later this month.