MAP: Data shows cluster of budget hotels have become hotspot for violence, crime in Tacoma

The cluster of budget hotels in South Tacoma near where a woman was gunned down early Tuesday morning has become an outsized crime magnet for the city, according to data reviewed by FOX 13 News.

South Hosmer Street between 84th and 90th, where the hotels are located, has been the scene of 1,355 crime incidents as mapped by the City of Tacoma between 2014 and December 2021. Taken as a whole, the records reflect a staggering variety of alleged crimes at these locations: kidnappings, sex trafficking, drug dealing, illegal gun sales, robbery, shootings, fraud, assaults, and murder. While the tool only shows 10 data points along the approximately half-mile stretch of road, each spot is linked to dozens – if not hundreds – of police reports. For example, the data point near the old Dickeys Barbecue Pit location links to 150 separate incidents.

(City of Tacoma GIS)

By comparison, crime numbers drop more than 90% when you look just one block over. During the same 7-year period, the same portion of South Alaska (including side streets) had just 120 incidents according to this data. Walking a little farther east, while South Ainsworth wasn’t crime free there were still only 95 incidents on the map.  

Law enforcement experts point to two features that make South Hosmer Street a convenient place to do crime: easy access from Interstate 5 and a choice of seven different motels, inns, and travel lodges. The City of Tacoma already recognizes that hotels and motels can become problem spots for illegal behavior if poorly run but Arizona State University’s Center for Problem Oriented Policing has collected several studies on Disorder at Budget Motels in particular. These include a review of ‘Taking Back our Boulevard,’ an enforcement operation carried out by the Tukwila Police Department targeting a handful of nuisance hotels that resulted in a dramatic drop in local crime.

Like the concentration of law-breaking along South Hosmer, an analysis of police reports in Tukwila from 2008-2012 "showed an elevated number of incidents occurred along a 1.5 mile section of Tukwila International Boulevard (TIB)" near nine motels. According to the report, "Several of these motels were suspected of being safe havens for persons engaged in prostitution, drug dealing, and the violent crimes associated with those activities." Three of the nine motels in particular, all along the same block, were among the "top five problem locations."

A year-long investigation by local and federal officers showed that "the three motels - all owned by members of the same family - were used by the owners to facilitate and profit from criminal activity. The investigation resulted in the arrests of the owners and the federal seizure of the motels …. One year after the motels were shuttered, data showed a 12% drop in violent crime city-wide and a 40% drop in violent crime along the TIB corridor."

Other Washington cities have shuttered problem hotels, by declaring them nuisance properties – including Seattle and most recently Pasco. Victoria Woodards, mayor of Tacoma, addressed questions if the city should consider the same plan on South Hosmer Street.

"So, it’s not something that’s on our docket right now. Doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t consider, but what we currently use is our nuisance code. And through our nuisance code and code enforcement, we have gone in and made changes. In some cases shut motels down for a period of time," said Woodards.

South Hosmer Street is in District Five, led by city council member Joe Bushnell for the past four months. He said cleaning up Hosmer isn’t a quick fix, but rather long term investments to revitalize it.

"I think of Hosmer as a district, like it’s own business district, but traditionally in the past it hasn’t been thought as so. And so, I’m really trying to orient community to the problems that are happening down there citywide, and we can organize the community, develop a plan and really execute that plan to bring in those investments and really turn the neighborhood around," said Bushnell.

"This is truly a low opportunity area. So, we need to make more investments in that particular area. But the problem is, do you get the investments before you solve the crime? Or do you solve the crime and then you get the investments?" said Woodards.

City leaders said they look forward to hearing Tacoma Police Chief Avery Moore’s crime update report--taking a closer look at hot spots in Tacoma, including South Hosmer Street. The chief is scheduled to give the report on April 19 during the city council meeting.

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