Honored detective Allan Baalaer finds his smile fighting crime in Tukwila

For 10 years Tukwila's drug dealers, prostitutes and car thieves have given Allan Baalaer, a Tukwila Police officer and detective who has been recognized for his service, something to grin about.

Tukwila Police Detective Allan Baalaer has been recognized for his police work and life-saving efforts. Dean A. Radford/Tukwila Reporter

For 10 years Tukwila’s drug dealers, prostitutes and car thieves have given Allan Baalaer, a Tukwila Police officer and detective who has been recognized for his service, something to grin about.

“My niche is narcotics and being proactive,” Baalaer said. “That is what really puts a smile on my face.”

It was Baalaer who wrote the search warrant that SWAT, detectives and police officers served in August on a Tukwila house they believed was associated with a vehicle-theft ring.

After weeks on the run, a prime suspect is in custody.

Just six months into his career in Tukwila, Baalaer in 2006 became a hero, saving a handcuffed man on drugs from drowning in the Duwamish River.

“At that moment in time, I was just thinking this guy is going to die, if I don’t jump in right now,” he said. “I had to make a decision that fast.”

He decided to risk his own life. Now underwater, 10 feet from shore and in full gear, he grabbed man’s white t-shirt.

The man started fighting and yelled, “Let God take me. Let God take me.” Backup officers arrived and helped Baalaer pull him to shore.

Baalaer received the Governor’s Lifesaving Award and the City of Tukwila’s Medal of Valor Award in 2006 for his heroic actions that day.

His life-saving awards and his work ethic as a police officer were cited in the nomination the Tukwila Police Department sent to the Delta-White Center Masonic Lodge in Tukwila, which has honored Baalaer earlier as its outstanding police officer for 2015.

“Once he got to Tukwila, he hit the streets running,” the nominating letter reads. “He has proved himself in a very short period of time to be a proactive, reliable police officer.”

Baalaer was hired by the Tukwila Police Department after four years as a Detroit police officer. He was one of hundreds of police officers laid off by that financially troubled city. He looked west to Washington, where he has family, for a new job. He considered Seattle and Tacoma and then only applied with Tukwila.

This was 2005.

On a ridealong as part of the interview process, he saw the city – “the beautiful mall” – and Tukwila International Boulevard, which he was told was Tukwila’s high-crime area. He had worked in a “really, really bad area” of Detroit, but he didn’t see any bars on Boulevard buildings nor did it seem intimating.

He started to second-guess himself, wondering whether he would find excitement in Tukwila. He decided to give Tukwila a shot. And that smile appeared on his face. “It was like ‘Wow,’ I started getting a lot of dope arrests, stolen cars and guns,” he said. Not quite like Detroit, but Tukwila did have a high-crime area.

“I just really enjoyed myself,” he said, pointing out he wasn’t comparing Tukwila’s to Detroit’s crime. But the job matches his proactive style of police work, he said, seeking out and actively preventing criminal activity in known high-crime areas before it can happen.

“Once you become a police officer, everyone finds their niche,” he said, from processing accident scenes to writing tickets to community policing. He had found his in Tukwila.

He was promoted to detective in 2009. He served on the federal Valley Narcotics Enforcement Team, one of the leading officers to make drug arrests for three years in a row. Later he would join a task force that targets vehicle thieves.

Duty on the narcotics task force took him to Mexico, basically wherever large-scale organizations operated. At home, the task force would seize packages at airports, hotels or the post office or other parcel-delivery locations.

Washington is on the West Coast drug thoroughfare between the main source, which is Southern California, and Canada, he said. Marijuana to Alaska flies out of Seattle and ecstasy and marijuana comes down from Canada, so he was busy.

“It’s a fruitful area for narcotics,” he said. Local agencies handle the street-level drug crimes.

Baalaer worked at the Neighborhood Resource Center on The Boulevard, which he calls a “great resource” for officers because they can monitor criminal active on cameras from there.

“It’s like you are sitting next to them at a bus stop and watching them,” he said. An officer can develop probable cause to make an arrest from what’s seen on the camera. He credits the cameras for many of his arrests.

Baalaer patrolled The Boulevard at a time when criminal activity at four motels was at its peak, he said. He was very busy.

“They were harboring all these drug deals and prostitutes. And literally it was almost like shooting fish in a barrel,” he said. “I mean you could sit out there and you would watch drug deal after drug deal or Johns picking up girls for prostitution.”

With the closure of the motels, crime has decreased on The Boulevard. “It’s not like it used to be. But obviously there are still drugs and there are still things going on,” he said. “It’s just not in plain view like it used to be.”

A member of Tukwila’s Civil Disturbance Unit at the time, Ballaer was part of the multi-agency raid in August 2013, in which the federal government seized The Boulevard, Great Bear and Travelers Choice motels. The City of Tukwila later purchased the Spruce Motel. A contract has been awarded to demolish all but the Travelers Choice.

The crime rate on The Boulevard has dropped since the raid. “It made a huge difference,” he said. “It was a great time for Tukwila.”

Last July, Baalaer was assigned to the P.A.T.R.O.L. Auto Theft Regional Task Force. Soon, he was writing the search warrant SWAT and investigators needed to look for Kevin Michael Vaughn and anything related auto theft early on Aug. 27 at the house on 51st Avenue South next to Interstate 5.

He and other task force detectives were in the Tukwila Police briefing room, waiting for SWAT to secure the house so they could begin their investigation. “That’s the way it usually works,” he said.

Then “shots fired” came across police radios. “To hear that on the radio — shots fired — your instinct is ‘I want to get in my car and go down there’,” he said. But they couldn’t.

Two motorcyclists southbound on Interstate 5 had fired at least seven times at investigators at the house. No one was hurt.

The search began for Kevin Vaughn, who almost was taken into custody at least once. Baalaer had to cancel one interview, without saying why. Later, he explained that that attempt to arrest Vaughn at that time “didn’t work out as planned.”

“It would be great if somebody called me right now and said we have him in custody,” Baalaer said at the time. “I would be so happy. He’s been a thorn in a lot of people’s side.”

Vaughn was arrested Oct. 15 in Lynnwood on numerous warrants and was being held without bail in the King County jail downtown.

Baalaer wasn’t able to say much about Vaughn, other than describing him as a prolific car thief who has multiple convictions.

“The problem is when you get somebody who is reckless and fearless, that’s a bad combination,” he said. “When you’re not fearful of ramifications of your actions, that could be a really bad recipe for the safety of the public.”

Now, 10 years in Tukwila and despite initial uncertainty, the city has given Baalaer plenty of professional excitement.

“I love it here. Tukwila has given me so much opportunity,” he said, including the two specialty task forces and his patrol duties, which many other police officers don’t get.

“It’s a fun place to work. I enjoy getting up every morning an dcoming to work,” said Baalaer, who plans to retire in Tukwila.

And he’s making a difference – smiling – knowing that at least for awhile someone he’s arrested won’t be committing another crime.

“That just makes me happy, knowing that the streets are that much safer every time you take somebody off the streets who shouldn’t be on the streets,” he said.


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