A locksmith says the Wenatchee Police Department has cost him $250,000 in lost business because of its nice-guy policy of opening locked car doors for free.
Harley Hudson, owner of Harley’s Lock & Key in Wenatchee, filed a claim for damages with the city Monday. Filing a claim is required before filing a lawsuit against the city, which Hudson’s attorney, Steve Volyn, said his client is prepared to do if the city doesn’t respond.
In his claim, Hudson says the city has fielded at least 1,000 calls from stranded motorists in the past year, consuming 500 hours of officer time.
Hudson charges about $30 to open locked cars, and his claim says he’s suffered “significant business losses in at least the sum of $250,000” because of the city’s “unconstitutional gift of public funds.”
“If there’s no threat to safety or health, should police officers be opening a car for free when there are businesses in town who do it for a fee? And do you want police to be doing that rather than their job?” Volyn asked.
The department has long had a policy of helping motorists who lock their keys in cars. Police chief Ken Badgley said his officers won’t tackle electric locks, but will help citizens with mechanical ones if they’re not busy with more pressing matters.
“We do it as a community-policing effort. We’re trying to do things that are citizen-oriented,” Badgley said.
Jim Brown, head of police records, said his statistics showed 796 calls in 1995 and 947 in 1994, but those figures don’t indicate how long officers spent at the scene. Usually, Badgley said, it takes just a few minutes for officers to open a door.
A locksmith filed a similar action against Sunnyside in 1989, Volyn said. That community 60 miles south settled the matter out of court, said Judie Essary, legal assistant to Sunnyside’s city attorney, agreeing to give the locksmith $25,000 in damages and to cease its policy of opening car doors except in the case of an emergency.
Last summer, the city of Moses Lake, about 50 miles east, decided to stop helping motorists with locked cars after several locksmiths petitioned the City Council for a change.