Ty Swenson
King County Sheriff's Office Captain Patrick Butschli spoke to the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council on Dec. 6 about law enforcement staffing levels in White Center.

KCSO: No foreseeable changes to policing levels in White Center, and a new sheriff with a “warm place in his heart” for North Highline

The residents of North Highline declined Burien’s annexation offer by a two-thirds majority in the November election, cementing their foreseeable future as an unincorporated area policed by the King County Sheriff’s Office.

On the law enforcement front, there was positive news for the community shared by Capt. Patrick Butschli of the sheriff’s office at a North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting on Dec. 6: while the area won’t see more deputies in the foreseeable future, the numbers will not decline, and that incoming Sheriff John Urquhart “has a warm place in his heart” for Highline and Burien.

“The good news about Sheriff Urquhart is he did all of his deputy and sergeant time at this police station right up the street (in Burien) and he has a warm place in his heart for the West Precinct,” Butschli said, “and so if anything, things will get better here and that’s my instinct in terms of staffing. He likes this area, this is where he did his police work, and so he understand better than most the policing and community (and) crime … problems in this area and so I think you will find a good supporter for your concerns.”

Urquhart defeated Sheriff Steve Strachan for the top cop position in the Nov. 6 election. As a side note, according to KCSO Sgt. Cindi West, Urquhart spend nearly a decade, during the 90’s, as a deputy stationed in Burien. When he made sergeant, she said, he worked out of the southeast and downtown precincts.

Butschli also addressed a campaign promise put out by Strachan during the campaign season. On Oct. 12, KCSO released a statement that Strachan planned to hire fourteen new deputies in 2013 through money saved with a new staffing model and overtime reductions. While it wasn’t clear where those deputies might end up, it gave hope to some North Highline residents that their police force could increase.

“There was much discussion during our most recent contentious sheriff’s election about 14 new deputies … there is a difference between 14 new deputies and 14 new full time sheriff’s office positions and I think there is a fair amount of confusion …” he said, explaining that in reality “What they were really talking about was 14 new deputies to fill positions that are currently vacant, so we haven’t added additional deputies to the sheriff’s office.”

Butschli said the department always has a certain number of unfilled positions because of the lag between the retirement of an officer and the year it takes to train their replacement for street duty. “As far as I know, no changes (are in the pipeline) to the way you are staffed in this community. You still have two deputies 24-7 minimum and in most cases you will have more than that (between 4-5 on duty from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.).”

The storefront deputy positions held by Deputy BJ Myers and Deputy Eric White at Greenbridge are also safe, Butschli said.

Myers added that King County Metro Police are trying out a new model with an officer dedicated to policing transit stations and shelters from Burien to North Highline, essentially adding a new officer to the beat. He said the officer is spending a lot of time at the transit center on 15th Ave S.W. near Roxbury and provides a new element of enforcement with his ability to trespass those who misbehave from Metro property, including buses and shelters.

In other news …

Club Evo update
Providing an update on Club Evo, the White Center dance club on 16th Ave S.W. that was shut down in 2010 after a string of violence and public safety problems spilled out the doors on a regular basis, Butschli said an injunction is still in place on the business, keeping them from holding events .. but not for a lack of trying.

Police caught wind on Facebook of a rave party planned for the spot the day before Thanksgiving and Butschli said Sgt. Rodney Chinnick was able to contact the promoter before the event to remind them of the injunction for not having a proper sprinkler system or the proper business licenses to operate. The promoters, armed with the knowledge they would face fines in the aftermath, decided at the last minute to cancel.

Not everyone, apparently, checked the Facebook update. Myers said several people showed up at the doors “dressed for a rave with no place to go.”

“I think we are still going to have a fight on our hands with Club Evo,” Butschli said. “I think we are going to have to stay diligent with that particular property because for the owner and operators, they are paying taxes and they are trying to do anything they can legally to get some revenue out of it.”

As an additional layer of protection from Club Evo reopening, a one-year moratorium on new dance clubs opening in White Center was passed by the King County Council at the request of Councilmember Joe McDermott in 2011, but it came to an end in Oct. 2012.

Hopes for clarity with passage of I-502
“The bright side of I-502 hopefully will be some very clear, not arbitrary guidelines for law enforcement to at least control the marijuana situation and I am hopeful by the time the state is done with their sets of laws on this topic (we will have that clarity),” Butschli said of the legalization of marijuana possession and use for those 21 years and older.

“The problem right now with medical marijuana is the state legislator and the governor took a hands off approach because they didn’t want to have issues with the federal government,” he continued. “I think that they can’t sort of hide from I-502, there are going to have to come up with laws and guidelines on how this thing is supposed to operate. I’m hoping that by the time they get through that process … that I will finally be able to give the deputies some very clear instruction on what we can and cannot enforce.”

Asked by NHUAC President Barbara Dobkin whether or not it is legal for medical marijuana patients to smoke pot on premise at the Northwest Cannabis Market on 16th, Butschli responded, “The answer is yes, according to medical marijuana law.”

Operation Center of Attention defendants heading to prison
Department of Justice Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Bates swung by the NHUAC meeting for a surprise visit, updating the council on recent prison terms handed down to 21 people arrested in Operation Center of Attention, a 2011 multi-agency bust of drug and gun traffickers operating out of White Center. Fifty people were arrested, 68 guns were recovered and several pounds of meth, cocaine, heroin and marijuana were seized in the operation.

“There have been a lot of both guilty pleas and convictions at trial of a lot of the defendants that were arrested as part of the Center of Attention operation,” Bates said. “The most recent two included, last week, a defendant got eight years in prison for the distribution of four pounds of methamphetamine and at the beginning of last month another defendant got 15 years for the distribution of 22 pounds of meth and the possession of a firearm in the furtherance of that activity.

“Overall, to date, there have been 21 defendants who have plead guilty or were convicted at trial.”

Bates said he wished to remind the community that the Department of Justice is available as a resource and sounding board for White Center.

“I just want to, again, reiterate our commitment to the flourishing public safety in this community and to make sure that everyone still knows they can call me, call our office, and we will continue to work closely with the sheriff’s office and everyone else as we move forward.”

If you have anything to ask Bates, or information you’d like to share on criminal activity in White Center in the aftermath of Operation Center of Attention, he can be reached at 206-553-2272.

NHUAC meets on the first Thursday of most months at the North Highline Fire Station, 1243 S.W. 112th St. in White Center at 7 p.m.

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