Siren Song

After spending a considerable amount of time in Parkland Washington a person will have a very good chance of hearing police and fire sirens at all times throughout the day and night. Emergency sirens can inflict a range of emotions and reactions depending on the person. Some people believe that nothing is wrong and others believe that a terrible problem or accident has occurred. For some reason Parkland tends to evoke the latter. Because of this Parkland often gets a reputation as dangerous, hazardous, or unsafe. In my opinion Parkland receives a poorer reputation than it deserves. I believe that because of the continual sound of the emergency sirens that Parkland’s reputation is negatively influenced.

Parkland is one of many unincorporated suburbs of Tacoma, Washington. Even though Parkland is technically not its own city it still has its own unique society and community. Parkland is also home to Pacific Lutheran University (PLU). PLU was founded in 1890, and is home to over 3,000 full-time students. Many PLU students suffer from an affect called the “Lute Dome.” The Lute Dome is a saying students and faculty use to describe an aspect of PLU, and comes from a belief that once students get on campus they rarely leave the campus to interact with the community. The campus is so beautiful, and has all of the essentials a student would need, so it is not a necessity to leave campus. However, you have to believe that some students fail to leave campus and get involved for fear of the unknown in Parkland. When I asked PLU freshman Adam Baldwin about his personal view of Parkland he responded, “It is kind of low end, not that nice” (Baldwin). He then admitted that he has not spent that much time in the Parkland community.

Many PLU students are skeptical about getting involved in the Parkland community. When a former PLU student was asked to get involved in the community she was hesitant because, “she had been told many stereotypes about the Parkland community. Among other things, she had heard the community was not safe”   (Big Buddies – Stepping Out of the Lutedome). Yet, she still joined the After School Engagement Program and says, “Her experiences has abolished those stereotypes made by PLU students who failed to become active members of the outside community” (Big Buddies – Stepping Out of the Lutedome). I will admit that before I came to PLU I was very skeptical about living in Parkland and believed some of the negative stereotypes I had heard growing up about Parkland. Growing up I would hear stereotypes that Parkland is dangerous, hazardous, or unsafe from the adults in my life. I have yet to experience anything that would make me think that Parkland was more dangerous or unsafe than any other city.

However, all stereotypes and beliefs have to come from somewhere. After looking at some of Parkland’s crime statistics it is easy to understand why these stereotypes have formed. Per one hundred thousand people Parkland has an estimated total crime of 4,847 (Parkland, WA Crime Rates & Statistics). This is higher than the Washington State total and national total per hundred thousand people. This chart shows the average daily crime in Parkland compared to cities averages in Washington and the nation. Property crime is a category of crime that has anything to do with any type of crime against a person’s property, while violent crime is a category of crime where force or the threat of force is used against a person. According to Area Vibes, a person has a 1 in 22 chance of being the victim of a property crime (Parkland, WA Crime Rates & Statistics). The chance of being a victim of a violent crime is 1 in 358 (Parkland, WA Crime Rates & Statistics). Yet, the overall crime in Parkland from 2012 to 2013 did drop. It is worth noting that these numbers are a little misconstrued as according to the 2010 census the current population of Parkland is about 35,803. All of the crime stats are based on a per one hundred thousand people basis. So, most of these numbers for Parkland are estimates.

When we compare Parkland with other cities in the country with similar population size it is about average in overall crime. Parkland is still on the higher side of property crimes when compared to similar sized cities in the country. After looking at all of the data it seems that Parkland is no different than any other city of its size based on crimes. Crime is a factor in Parkland’s negative reputation, but after looking at the data, crime is not that big of a threat. Property crime appears to be Parkland’s biggest problem. If a person is smart in locking their doors, not leaving valuables in plain sight, then they should be able to minimize their chances of being one of the property crime victims. While there is crime in Parkland, violent crime is not that big of a threat.

As stated Parkland is located in Pierce County and falls under the control of Central Pierce Fire and Rescue. Central Pierce Fire and Rescue has two departments located in Parkland that serve the Parkland area. Parkland does not have a police department, but is under the control of Washington State Patrol, Pierce County Sheriffs, and, when needed, the Tacoma Police Department. According to the 2013 Central Pierce Fire and Rescue the department ran an average of 2,267 calls per month (Central Pierce Fire and Rescue). The report does not say the exact amount of calls that take place in Parkland, as the department serves more areas than just Parkland. Because there are two fire departments and the police presence, emergency sirens are extremely frequent. I asked PLU sophomore Mitch Baldridge what he thinks about when he hears the sirens, and he responded, “I think of the stereotypes that Parkland is ghetto” (Baldridge). I then asked what the constant hearing of the sirens makes him think, to which he responded, “Hearing the sirens just reinforces the stereotype in my mind” (Baldridge).

Driving through Parkland one can stop at the beautiful PLU campus, then turn and travel just a couple blocks away and see some rundown not very nice looking apartments. When a person is not used to seeing these types of building where they are from they will most likely begin to associate the bad looking apartments with bad people. These ideas can be better explained using as idea known as “broken window theory.” Broken window theory is a criminological theory that states, “If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge” (Broken Window Theory).  The opposite can be applied where if a person sees a very nice well-kept building they will generalize that the people must care and be good people. When we apply broken windows theory to some of the areas around PLU and in Parkland people will generally conclude that these are not nice areas. This is just one, very big reason, of how these stereotypes come to fruition. This belief goes hand in hand with the “Lute Dome” affect. Looking on the surface with broken windows theory one might think that this is not a very nice place, then adding the “Lute Dome” affect there is no desire from PLU students to break down these stereotypes. When people don’t go into Parkland and see for themselves what truly is the case, then the stereotypes will continue to live on.

By no means is Parkland a perfect city. It has its problems, but what city doesn’t have its problems. No matter what city you go to there will always be places in that city where you might not want to go, or that aren’t that nice. One reason I believe that PLU students generate their own beliefs about Parkland has to do with where they come from. My belief is that most PLU students come from areas where they are not used to hearing sirens. I asked twenty-five PLU students whether they hear sirens more now than they did in the hometowns. Of that twenty-five, twenty-one responded that yes they do hear more sirens now than they did in their hometown. This is a very small sample size but I would be willing to bet that it would hold true for most of the PLU students. People usually associate sirens with danger, so when they hear the sirens, especially at a higher rate than they are used to, they begin to reason that Parkland is a dangerous place. What most people fail to realize is that not every time they hear a siren there is a major emergency or problem. The vast majority of the time they are responding to much simpler and safer calls than a life-threatening situation.

Before coming to PLU I had my own suspicions about Parkland. I grew up in a small town about forty minutes south of Parkland. Growing up I often had to travel to Parkland and Parklands neighboring cities to do the things we wanted to do. So, before coming to PLU I had been to Parkland many times. During those visits I began to believe many of the stereotypes about Parkland based on what I had seen passing through and heard from other people. I remember on my recruiting trip to PLU waking up in the middle of the night to sirens. At that time I started to wonder what I was going to be getting myself into. My friends from high school would ask me why I wanted to live in Parkland. In the town that I grew up in you would hear emergency sirens maybe once or twice a week at the most. So, hearing these sirens so often just reinforced in my mind all of the stereotypes I had heard, like I imagine it does to many of the other PLU students.

It wasn’t until I had got to PLU and ventured out into the Parkland community that I started to realize these stereotypes were not entirely true. There are many very nice, good people in Parkland, but just like in any city there are also some not so nice people. You can’t base your beliefs on a few bad people, or what you might have heard from other people, but not experienced for yourself.

Now I can tell all of my friends that Parkland isn’t all that bad.

by Connor Wienholz