Abating nuisance properties, the importance of neighborhood watch and the role of K9 were just a few of the topics covered during last week’s block watch meeting, hosted by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office in partnership with the city of Sultan.
Held at 7 p.m., Wednesday, November 8, at Sultan City Hall, the goal of the meeting was to promote the increased formation of community neighborhood watch groups in specific locations throughout the city. It gave attendees a deeper insight into how the sheriff’s office is responding to the heroin crisis and the resulting increases in petty crime and mental health issues, which have plagued the county at epidemic levels. The meeting invited dialogue that Chief Steve McDonald hopes will facilitate further communication between Sultan residents and their law enforcement providers.
Block watch is all about breaking down barriers and building partnerships between the sheriff’s office and the community, said McDonald.
“The sole purpose of this meeting is public safety,” McDonald said. “We have to have partnerships with the citizens in order for this to be the safest possible community.”
Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary has identified police-community partnerships as a top priority, calling the combination of law enforcement officers and community members a “force multiplier.” In 2015, he founded the Office of Neighborhoods as a mechanism to further his “community first” mission on a county-wide level. Headed up by Sgt. Ian Huri and Sgt. Nathan Alanis, the Office of Neighborhoods was established to bolster police-community relationships, target the burgeoning heroin problem and address the rising number of calls stemming from issues related to poor mental health.
Sgt. Huri gave an overview of the unit, which is divided into Homeless Outreach and Neighborhood Watch. Huri is the driving force behind the Homeless Outreach division, spending the bulk of his time engaging at different homeless encampments throughout the county, interacting with those suffering from acute addiction and mental health issues.
Instead of emphasizing a punitive response to homelessness and petty crimes associated with drug addiction, the Office of Neighborhoods seeks to get to the root of the problem through rehabilitation. The goal is to remove the individual from the criminal justice system by helping them achieve sobriety, which alleviates the heavy societal burden of repeated jail and emergency room visits.
“Ultimately, if we can get those people back into housing and through treatment, they’re not out committing crimes every day,” Huri said.
They implemented the embedded social worker model, which pairs social workers with law enforcement officers for a more comprehensive approach. Almost immediately, they saw that it was working and made the program permanent. Currently, the unit operates with two sergeants, three deputies and three social workers, one of whom divides her time between Snohomish County and the city of Monroe. As a unit, they strive to achieve a delicate balance between encouraging rehabilitation while maintaining a rigid stance with those who refuse to accept services.
Though hard data is sparse, building law enforcement-offender relationships is an emerging recidivism-reduction strategy that is proving successful. The method is being utilized in different ways; Seattle Police Department Detective Kim Bogucki discovered the positive effects of “cop and convict working together side by side,” and cofounded a nonprofit called the IF Project. The IF Project seeks transform the lives of incarcerated women so that once they are released from prison, they don’t return.
The Office of Neighborhoods applies that same partnership principal, with a true, boots-on-the-ground approach aimed at interrupting the progression before the client ends up in prison. To remain in compliance with the program, clients must achieve and maintain 100 percent abstinence, Huri said. Treatment is a requirement, not an option.
Huri and the Office of Neighborhoods deputies become engaged in their clients’ lives. If a client needs a ride to detox, an Office of Neighborhoods deputy will provide that.
Detox from opiates at a medical facility generally lasts about a week, after which an addict’s grasp on sobriety is unquestionably tenuous. It is imperative that they get into treatment right away, so deputies will assist with that part of the process as well.
“We actually do a lot of driving around for our folks to get them from appointment to appointment just so that there’s no excuses,” Huri said.
If they successfully complete treatment, they qualify for up to six months in a clean and sober living facility through a county voucher program. To maintain the vouchers, they must attend 90 AA or NA meetings in 90 days, while following through on their outpatient treatment commitments. Drug free urinalysis testing is also required. During this timeframe there is social worker engagement to help them seek employment or pursue additional education.
Since the program’s inception, they’ve housed over 100 people, with numbers likely extending closer to the 120 to 125 range, said Huri. Seventy percent of the people who start detox make it out of detox and into treatment, with a little over two-thirds of those clients making it all the way through treatment and into housing. The numbers are extremely favorable in comparison with common statistics, which identify a 91 percent relapse rate among opiate addicts.
Currently, the vast majority of Huri’s client contact occurs in south Everett, Lynnwood and near Snohomish. He is a familiar face to members of the homeless community in those areas, sometimes engaging with an individual three times a week. The unit strives to increase its visibility in east Snohomish County, said Huri, and currently relies on local deputies to bridge the gap.
Sultan deputies Mark Bond and Mike Wilson interact frequently with Sultan’s homeless population, through regular patrols of parks and public areas with city code enforcement officer Victoria Forte’. When an individual indicates they are willing to accept services, Huri’s team deploys to Sultan.
The second aspect of the Office of Neighborhoods is its Neighborhood Watch division, led by Alanis. Alanis will visit any community block watch meeting to provide information and guidelines on successful neighborhood watch program implementation. He’s traveled to various living rooms, garages and churches around the county, meeting with community members to help promote block watch.
He tailors the discussions to the individual neighborhoods, to better address the ongoing issues.
“My primary focus is crime prevention and how can we make our neighborhoods safer,” Alanis said.
Block watch is all about communication, connections, reporting all suspicious incidents, and knowing who your neighbors are, he said. A robust, thriving block watch program serves as a deterrent to criminals, achieving the ultimate goal of making neighborhoods less attractive to thieves.
The meeting included presentations by K9 deputies Matt Boice and Art Wallin, who brought K9 Ronin along as an interactive, visual representation of the resources available to the community through the sheriff’s office. The county has a total of four K9 teams, one of which is Deputy Boice and K9 Ace, who work in Snohomish. The other three, including Deputy Wallin and K9 Ronin, work in various parts of the county. K9 Ace, a two-year old Belgian Malinois from the Netherlands, is the county’s newest K9.
Of the county’s four K9, Ace, Luuk and Ronin are tracking dogs, referred to as “generals,” which are used to track, locate and apprehend suspects who choose to run from the police. The fourth, K9 Jack, is cross-trained for both narcotics detection and suspect tracking.
“We are an immediate response to a dynamic situation that’s now gone mobile,” Boice said.
Deputy Wallin has been partnered with K9 Ronin, a black German shepherd nearly 6-1/2 years old, for four years. The two are utilized throughout Snohomish County and beyond, having engaged in hundreds of successful tracks. A multitude of factors in Snohomish County, including the terrain, weather, population and crime rate, make the area highly conducive to effective K9 work, said Wallin.
And because K9 teams are a finite resource, he added, they are often called to neighboring cities and counties to engage in tracks.
“I will go into the city of Everett for a track, I will go down to King County for a track – we go everywhere,” Wallin said. “It’s a limited resource but it’s a tool for us that’s invaluable.”
Dogs save an incredible amount of time and resources, and reduce the property damage that can occur during dynamic entries. They increase officer safety by reducing violent interactions with suspects. Most importantly, they save lives.
Ronin is more than just a working partner, said Wallin, he is a member of his family.
“They’re with us twenty-four seven,” Wallin said. “He comes home with me, he goes on vacation with me – they’re part of the family.”
K9 Ronin enthusiastically demonstrated that bond throughout the meeting. He amiably relaxed on the floor of council chambers, occasionally seeking snuggles from Wallin. He chewed an empty water bottle with great zeal, ever watchful and observant of his surroundings. His friendly demeaner was abundantly evident, as he remained at Wallin’s side throughout the entirety of the meeting.
When a resident asked how the general public can help support the K9 program, Boice referenced Pennies for Puppies, a Snohomish County-based nonprofit dedicated to providing financial assistance to help agencies maintain and further their police and service dog programs. Boice’s dog, K9 Ace, was purchased for the county by Pennies for Puppies, along with donations from local tribes.
From homeless outreach to neighborhood watch to K9 teams, the meeting gave Sultan residents a well-rounded overview of the services available to them through the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, while encouraging open communication. The city encourages its residents to work directly with law enforcement to help establish a flourishing neighborhood watch network.
For more information about the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office K9 program and to read about successful tracks by Ronin, Ace, Jack and Luuk, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/SnoCoSheriffK9/.
To contact Sgt. Alanis about setting up a block watch meeting, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Sgt. Huri about homeless outreach, email: email@example.com. To contact Chief Steve McDonald, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.