City council report: Homeless camps, community outreach continue to be police focus

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Mountlake Terrace Police Chief Greg Wilson updated the city council on the department’s first quarter statistics during the council’s business meeting May 7.

Mountlake Terrace now has three new entry-level officers as well as a second code enforcement officer “and we should be feeling the effects of that out on the street,” Wilson said.

During January-March 2018, the department responded to 2,756 calls for service, took 565 reports, investigated 278 crimes, made 119 arrests (a combination of felonies and misdemeanors), conducted 1,041 traffic stops, issued 188 infractions, investigated 84 collisions and arrested eight people for DUI. The statistics were similar to the year before, and indicate ongoing low crime in the community, Wilson said.

Deputy Chief Pete Caw talked about the ongoing work police are doing with people in need, noting that police made their 137th community outreach contact during first quarter 2018. Through the department’s Community Outreach Supply and Resource Program, officers distribute bags containing supplies, food and pamphlets about local shelters, housing assistance, treatment and mental health programs to those in need within the Mountlake Terrace community.

In addition, Sgt. Kevin Pickard continues his work as the department’s homeless liaison officer, responding to issues related to homeless encampments in the city.

“We are still are experiencing — I wouldn’t call it a crisis in this community but I would definitely call it a serious problem in all our communities” related to homelessness, Caw said.

Encampments include those in the 21400 block of 66th Avenue West; along Interstate 5 at 236th Street Southwest and 212th Street; and at 220th Street Southwest and 70th Avenue West, a wooded hillside adjacent to the ice arena, which has “a plethora of camps.”

Sgt Pickard spends time walking through the camps, talking with people and offering alternatives to their situation, Caw said.

“We’d like to solve the problem of homeless camps with empowering (people) to move on and get some housing,” Caw said. “Just moving them from area to area doesn’t solve the problem, it moves the problem.”

Both Caw and Wilson stressed the department’s emphasis on proactive community outreach, including presentations and interactions with the Mountlake Terrace Business Association, local high school students and Girl Scouts, and regular lunch at the Mountlake Terrace mosque.

“We’ve broken down a lot of perceived barriers there,” Caw said of the department’s visits to the mosque.

Police officers have “really enjoyed the positive contacts and relationships they’ve developed with the community,” Wilson said. Many times, police officers’ work involves “people who don’t really want you there,” Wilson said. “And that can kind of twist police officers’ minds that all that’s out there is negativity, negativity, negativity.”

Through positive contacts with the community, officers “realize the majority of the people out there are good,” the police chief added. “They get to know the community a lot better.”

“Overall it makes us a safer and much better community,” Wilson added.

Also during its May 7 meeting, the council approved as part of its consent agenda a $63,091 amendment to the professional services agreement between the city and ARC Architects that will cover master planning of the existing police station building. Developing a master plan for the existing station is a necessary first step before ARC can design the 3,100-square foot police station addition that was approved by voters — along with a new city hall — last November.

Councilmembers also approved an agreement with Sound Transit for $2 million in access improvements in Mountlake Terrace as part of Sound Transit’s link light rail extension from Northgate to Lynnwood. The improvements are meant to help local jurisdictions with access enhancement projects surrounding the future light rail stations.

Projects identified included creating a pedestrian plaza on the south side of 236th Street Southwest and a new paved pedestrian path through Veteran’s Park. But Councilmember Laura Sonmore said that she had concerns about the idea of using the money to improve the trail as a way of connecting the Mountlake Terrace Light Rail Station to the City’s Civic Plaza via 58th Avenue West.

“As a woman, I don’t feel safe walking through a park,” she said, adding that she would like to explore other routes to get pedestrians from the light rail station to the downtown core.

Under the plan, the trail system would include approximately 3,000 feet of an 8-foot-wide asphalt paved and lighted path through Veteran’s Park.

City Manager Scott Hugill responded that the project was preliminary at this point and that the council can decide later whether it wants to pursue that particular idea or look at other options. The action approved Monday approves the agreement with Sound Transit for $2 million in funding, which is the maximum the city can receive.

In addition to the plaza and trail projects, the city is also considering sidewalk improvements along the west side of 64th Avenue. That section of 64th Avenue West from 236th to 232nd Streets Southwest is currently being used by transit center commuters for spillover parking.

Under the agreement, all of the projects must be completed before the start of light rail service in 2024.

Councilmembers also decided to move the date of their next work/study session from Thursday, May 17 to Wednesday, May 16, to allow councilmembers to attend a Snohomish County Cities and Towns meeting in Lynnwood.

— By Teresa Wippel

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