Community engagement a top priority, MLT police chief tells city council

A homeless camp in Mountlake Terrace. (Photo courtesy Mountlake Terrace Police Department)

“I’m really proud of the momentum we have in our community engagement strategy,” said Mountlake Terrace Police Chief Greg Wilson during his first quarter report to the city council during its Thursday, May 11 meeting. “It’s been quite an emphasis in the police department.”

Wilson went on to describe the department’s efforts, from working with those who are homeless to making presentations to schools and community groups.

The goal is to “facilitate at atmosphere of trust, which is so vital in today’s world between police and public relations,” he said.

The department’s community engagement work is woven into the fabric of the department, Wilson said, and is even included as part of employee performance evaluations.

Sgt. Kevin Pickard is the homeless liaison officer, and as such interacts with members of the homeless community in Mountlake Terrace. In his role, he works to identify resources and opportunities “to get them out of that situation,” Wilson explained.

Pickard also leads efforts to identify and clean up homeless encampments in the area, with a focus on ensuring that the rights of homeless people aren’t violated, the chief said. In addition, Pickard facilitates training of MLT police officers regarding social issues that affect the homeless population.

Encampment clean-up “is very laborious, to say the least,” Wilson said, and often involved partnering with the city’s public works department and property owners. But sometimes it’s necessary to hire hazardous waste clean-up companies “to come in and deal with the fecal matter, syringes, contaminants within the encampments that are not safe for our personnel without that protective gear, etc.,” the police chief added.

While there are challenges related to the homeless population, Wilson went on to describe some success stories. Among them, officers identified a mother with young children who had been displaced from her home in Shoreline, and was staying temporarily at the Studio 6 motel. “Officers located on their own groceries for the family, worked with the management to extend their stay until social services could work with them on a longer-term solution,” Wilson said.

In another case, officers came across a homeless person and provided items from the community outreach and resources supply bags that officers have in their patrol cars. That action was recognized by a citizen on Facebook and was widely shared via social media, Wilson said.

The idea for those department supply bags, which include bottles of water and soda, beef jerky, crackers, diapers, feminine hygiene products, t-shirts and wet wipes, came from night shift personnel who had been encountering people “who were just down and out,” Wilson said. “Not so much members of the homeless population but people who just can’t afford the basic necessities in life.”

Wilson also provided a personnel update, noting that the department is authorized to have 28 officers and now has two vacancies. The department has hired two entry-level officers — Thomas Sheets, who begins at the Basic Law Enforcement Academy May 31, and Meagan Johnson, a police cadet who starts at the academy June 20. The department also on May 8 hired Eugene Shin from the Brier Police Department, who is currently in the department’s field training program.

The department is conducting background checks on candidates to fill the remaining two vacancies, Wilson added.
You can see the entire Police Department Power Point presentation to council here or listen to the audio here.

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