By Ross Courtney
Yakima Herald Republic
December 8, 2013
Report crimes promptly. Ask guests for identification. Maintain a well-lit property.
Sound like reasonable expectations of a motel owner? Both the police and owners of a local motel think so.
Agreeing to a list of such conditions, the city of Sunnyside and Townhouse Motel owner Fred Kim recently settled a public nuisance charge that has dragged on for months, possibly setting a template of police-business cooperation that other cities may follow.
“We really want to work with local hoteliers and other businesses,” said Sunnyside police Sgt. John Chumley.
The police and Kim, 52, built their list of a couple dozen requirements — checking employee backgrounds, installing security cameras and issuing parking passes to registered guests, among them — based on recommended practices of a Seattle nonprofit dedicated to stamping out human trafficking.
Police have never suspected Kim and his wife, Helen, of trafficking, a term often used for organizational prostitution, Chumley said. But the ideas suggested by the organization could help curb other crimes, such as those involving drugs and disorderly conduct.
Besides, one crime often is the sign of others, said Mar Smith, executive director for Businesses Against Slavery and Trafficking (BEST).
Traffickers “are often not only selling girls, they’re selling drugs,” Smith said.
BEST held a hotel and motel management training Nov. 6 in Yakima with the help of the Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau. Law enforcement officials from Sunnyside and Yakima police, and five other agencies attended, along with social service workers, hotel owners and a representative from the Yakima County prosecutor’s office.
The training, one of several in the state held by the organization, included a general discussion of trafficking but also many of the practices found in the Townhouse settlement.
Yakima police like the idea of involving hotel owners in preventing crime, rather than blaming them for allowing it.
“It’s an objective approach to the problem,” said Yakima police Capt. Rod Light.
Motel owners may not even be aware they are allowed to set up policies such as quiet hours or conduct periodic room checks, both recommended by BEST, he said.
“I think it’s important to educate these hotel owners,” Light said.
Police activity at the Townhouse dates back years.
In May this year, police finally cited Kim for maintaining a public nuisance after officers grew frustrated with the sheer number of calls regarding drugs, assaults, public intoxication, vandalism and others, Chumley said.
The motel has about 20 rooms and sometimes offers long-term rentals. Chumley said he has heard of people living there for more than a year.
The location near the corner of Sixth Street and Yakima Avenue in Sunnyside was the site of 97 calls between 2010 and the time of the charge earlier this year, many of them dealing with gang members, according to a police affadavit filed in Sunnyside Municipal Court.
The Kims hired Sunnyside attorney Doug Garrison, who accused the police of harassment and “heavy-handed” tactics for problems his clients could not really control.
“They are trying to run these people out of town,” Garrison said over the summer.
A trial, originally scheduled for July, was postponed after turnover in the position of city prosecutor.
Tensions cooled by late November when Chumley, the Kims and their attorney discussed a stipulated order of continuance, which postpones any judgment for six months.
If the Kims abide by the conditions of the agreement — one of them is for Fred Kim to attend a BEST training — for six months, the judge will dismiss the ticket.
The police agreed to conditions, too. They promised to not make threats or disrupt the Kims’ businesses, for example. The Kims also own a convenience store near Sunnyside High School and had accused officers of blocking their driveway.
Helen Kim deferred questions to Garrison.
“It’s good for both sides,” Garrison said. “I’m happy with it, the Kims are happy with it.”