Tacoma considers allowing electric fences in more parts of the city. Here’s the reason

After eight catalytic converters were stolen from vehicles in their parking lot in recent months, the owners of Aqua Rec’s in Tacoma had enough.

They filed a permit with the city of Tacoma to put up an electric fence around their property off Puyallup Avenue.

“We didn’t really entertain it seriously until about a month ago because we’ve had multiple break-ins on our employees,” said Josh Shamp, co-owner of Aqua Rec’s, a pool, spa and fireplace service company that’s been at the location for about two decades. “It’s just gotten worse.”

Aqua Rec’s isn’t the only business in Tacoma seeking to use electric fences to deter crime.

Tacoma City Council member Robert Thoms proposed a resolution to Council last month to expand areas in the city where electric fences would be allowed after hearing from multiple businesses.

“Throughout our city, businesses have raised concerns about increasing safety issues related to their businesses outside of the industrial area,” Thoms said at a Council meeting on Nov. 23.

Thoms specifically mentioned certain auto businesses having catalytic converters stolen.

Right now, electric fences are prohibited in all zoning districts except for industrial, according to city documents. The proposed code change would expand use of the fences in downtown, commercial and mixed-use districts, but not residential.

A draft ordinance of the legislation would require electric fences to be behind non-electric fences no less than 5 feet. The ordinance also would set voltage limits.

The proposal permits a height of 10 feet, or 2 feet higher than the perimeter fence, whichever is higher. Electric fences would be identified with warning signs.

The proposal requires a change to the Tacoma Municipal Code and a review by the Tacoma Planning Commission. The commission will consider adding the code through its 2022 annual amendment process, which takes place January-June 2021.

Michael Pate is director of government relations for AMAROK, a company based out of South Carolina that supplies electric fences for businesses ranging from auto repair shops to cannabis fields. According to its website, the company has more than 5,000 customers across 48 states.

Pate said he’s seen an increase in requests particularly in Washington state, with many businesses citing catalytic converter thefts as part of the reason.

Pate added it’s not unusual for businesses to face barriers in the city permitting processes to set up a fence.

“This is fairly typical in the municipalities we deal with,” Pate told The News Tribune on Thursday. “We just have to go through the process to amend codes to actually get permits for the sites.”

One type of fence offered by AMAROK is called the “Electric Guard Dog.” At 10 feet high, any attempt to scale or touch the solar-powered fence triggers an alarm and LED lights.

“Would-be thieves who attempt a perimeter breach experience the shock of their lives — 7,000 medically safe but memorable volts. Criminals think twice about touching it again,” according to the website.

Pate said the fences are designed using technology from livestock electric fences that are in place across the country. While unpleasant if touched, it’s not deadly.

“It’s a safe, reliable product,” Pate said.

According to a Tacoma Police Department crime report from November, damage or vandalism to property is up 11 percent compared to last year, with 5,314 offenses in 2020 and 5,938 offenses in 2021. Theft/larceny is also up 7 percent, from 7,721 offenses in 2020 to 8,314 in 2021.

Steve Hutchins, president and CEO of Around the Sound, a non-emergency medical transportation company, has a lot of about 80 vehicles off South Tacoma Way. Since January, he said, he’s had 46 catalytic converters stolen from his lot.

Hutchins said he installed new lighting and video cameras but still looked for ways to protect his property. In September, things came to a head when someone who was stealing a catalytic converter pointed a gun at one of his drivers.

“I got more and more concerned,” Hutchins said.

He explored hiring a full-time security guard or even getting Doberman pinschers. Now, he wants to get an electric fence and is working through the permitting process.

“I’m hoping that they’ll determine it’s too hard to cut two fences,” Hutchins said of the vandals.

Ryan Makris decided to start permitting for an electric fence around his business, which is about to open off East Bay Street in Tacoma. Makris is president and CEO of WTD Equipment, a company that services heavy equipment.

Makris said Tacoma will be the company’s fourth location, with other sites in Portland, Oregon, Monroe, Washington, and Yuba City, California.

“(Electric fences) are not something we have at any of our other locations,” he said.

Makris said he decided to get the fences after talking to some of his business neighbors, who said they’ve had to walk the yard each morning to figure out what was missing or vandalized.

So far, Makris said, their building has been tagged with graffiti and that he’s seen someone cutting catalytic converters.

Makris said he’s hoping to receive permits for the electric fence before opening.

“This seems simple — I’m hoping the city will just amend the policy to allow this,” he said.

This story was originally published by The News Tribune.