Ty Swenson
King County Sheriff John Urquhart addressed North Highline residents at a public safety forum at the fire station on May 2.

Sheriff Urquhart lays out his plans for White Center and beyond

King County’s new Sheriff John Urquhart is making significant changes to the way his deputies operate, and we’ll get into that in a bit, but the primary question for White Center and North Highline residents attending a public safety forum on May 2 was, “What is going to happen to our storefront deputy?”

“I will do everything I can to keep BJ (Myers) in this storefront,” Urquhart responded, followed by a round of cheers from the crowd at the forum put on by the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council.

Funding set aside for the storefront position by the King County Council in 2011 is set to expire at the end of 2013, meaning money needs to be set aside in the budget King County Executive Dow Constantine is currently working on now.

Urquhart, who worked in Burien and North Highline as a narcotics detective during part of his long tenure with KCSO, said finding the money for White Center’s dedicated beat cop and community liaison depends on support from a “three-legged stool” of Constantine, county council, and the Sheriff himself.

Long-time White Center residents attending the meeting said they have predictably seen a rise in crime anytime a storefront deputy is not in place.

Those residents were encouraged to start lobbying the “three-legged stool” now to ensure their voice in keeping Myers in place is heard throughout the budget process.

A revamp in the works
Beyond the storefront, Urquhart said several changes are afoot for his department after taking over the top cop role in November, having bested Sheriff Steve Strachan in the election.

First on the docket, he is dismantling a “zone” deployment plan from the prior administration that sent deputies to different unincorporated areas on a daily basis, depending on need. Urquhart said the plan was intended to reduce overtime and save money, but did little to help on either front. Instead, he is reverting to a precinct model where cops stay in their designated zone, have roll call meetings every day, and have more time in a single community to ideally establish stronger relationships.

“I think this is a better way of deploying our people,” he said.

To forge those relationships, Urquhart said he is encouraging his deputies to step out of their patrol cars more often, so they can walk the streets and talk with residents face-to-face. If his employees have idle time, he does not want to see five squad cars congregated at the local coffee shop; he wants to see them in public, making connections.

Urquhart said KCSO is also reworking how they approach working with undocumented immigrants living in King County. Homeland Security has a U-Visa program that grants undocumented victims of crime visas (that can be valid up to four years), as long as the proper paperwork is filled out and the victim fully cooperates with local police (KCSO in this case).

“We have to document that yes, they have been a victim of a crime and they are cooperating with us, and we had kind of an adhoc way of doing that and it really wasn’t working very well,” he said. “So now, we’ve centralized that in the courthouse downtown, I sign all of them when they come across my desk, and we’ve got a website.”

“The reason I thought this was so important is we can’t protect people, we can’t do a good job in the community, if people are afraid to call the police because they think they are going to be deported.”

Developing a new approach for King County that has gravity in the past year that saw several mass shootings across the nation, including our own Café Racer tragedy, Urquhart said he is piloting a “Radar” system in Shoreline now that he hopes to eventually spread across the county.

Radar, he explained, is where deputies identify people in their community living with mental health issues and connect with them on a personal level, getting to know the person, their care providers, families and support groups. He said part of that process, if they find the person is living with guns in the house, will be to suggest they are removed for safe-keeping elsewhere.

“What we want to do is connect with these people before there is a violent incident where they have some sort of crisis in their life, we get called, and too often we have to use deadly force when we get there.”

In another pilot, Urquhart is starting a program in Skyway, modeled after the Seattle Police Department’s setup in Belltown, "where we don’t have to take low level drug users, or even low level sellers of drugs, to jail. We can take them to treatment if they are willing to go.”

KCSO is partnering with Evergreen Treatment Services , and Urquhart said he hopes to expand it to White Center when funds suffice.

Asked what the Sheriff thinks of medical marijuana dispensaries continuing to open up in North Highline, Urquhart made it clear I-502 (which he supported) does not address dispensaries. “We can’t close them down if we wanted to, we are just stuck,” he said, referring to unclear direction coming from lawmakers in Olympia.

In a followup, new owners of the Club Evo building on 16th Ave. S.W. are apparently trying to open a “cannabis bazaar.” According to KCSO, the injunction on that building (due to a lack of sprinklers and other issues) is still in place, so the bazaar will not be able to open until code shortfalls are addressed.

Myers’ monthly crime recap
Deputy Myers, in his monthly crime recap for North Highline, said the area saw a rise in crime from March vs. April: mostly property crime including burglaries and auto thefts, and that home burglaries were spread out with no particular neighborhoods being targeted more than others.

On the positive, he said the King County Gang Unit arrested three prior felons for illegal possession of firearms in White Center in April, and deputies managed to arrest three alleged serial home burglars in one fell swoop after a White Center woman spotted them snooping around a neighbor’s home and called 911.

Her watchful eye prompted a summertime reminder from Myers for the neighborhoods of White Center and beyond:

“We caught these guys because the neighbors were watching and knew what looked like suspicious activity. So my encouragement, as the weather starts to get good, is for all of us to get out and walk around, talk to our neighbors, pay attention to what’s going on, talk to a neighbor you’ve never talked to before so that, if you happen to see something at their house, you are a little more prepared (to decide if something is suspicious and deserves a call to police).”

Burien and North Highline Fire Chief Mike Marrs also spoke on the evening, discussing how his department operates in the area, and the budget limitations on their work. We’ll have a separate report on his speech coming up next week.

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