Grocery stores are quickly becoming places of crime and chaos in Western Washington.
Cellphone video given to KIRO 7 shows the moments of tension inside a Safeway in Seattle, after a group of suspects began pushing produce on the floor and spraying a fire extinguisher inside the store.
“When criminals are emboldened to steal a lot of times that elevates,” says Tammy Hetrick, the CEO of the Washington Food Industry Association, representing independent grocery and convenience stores. “It starts with a theft, but increases into other things.”
In just the last few weeks, KIRO 7 has reported incidents of violent crime outside grocery stores. In Edmonds, a man was stabbed outside a WinCo. Fred Meyers in Renton and Federal Way both saw shootings in their parking lots.
Steven is an employee at Fred Meyer’s in Federal Way. He witnessed the shooting, which happened over his lunch break, as he sat in his car.
“I heard several gunshots. Turned around. Saw someone sprinting toward the store, put two and two together in my head. Put it into gear and bolted,” says Steven.
KIRO 7 also spoke with an employee at a Seattle Safeway, who wished to exclude his name. “Every time you come to work, you’re always thinking that someone may come in or go crazy, bring a gun, or something like that,” he says.
Theft continues to be a persistent challenge.
“What we’re seeing is those same people coming back again, and again, and again, knowing that we are limited the resources and what we can do to stop them,” says Hetrick.
She says police don’t have the capacity to intervene and store employees are limited in how they can act. Hetrick explains that communities often pay the price for persistent crime, with rising food costs and the threat of food deserts.
“A lot of store owners are really weighing whether it makes sense to stay in business or not,” says Hetrick.
She says already some stores are diverting resources toward security and away from things like food bank donations.
“If you work at a food bank or volunteer at a food Bank, you’ve probably seen a decrease in just the number of items that are coming in. Because grocery stores are struggling to survive,” says Hetrick.
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