The many faces of community health, at 2023’s first North Highline Unincorporated Area Council

By Tracy Record
White Center Now editor

Deep dives into two important agencies/programs – the King County Sheriff’s Office and LEAD – comprised most of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council‘s first meeting of 2023, online last Thursday. The meeting was focused on “the health of North Highline,” as NHUAC’s Liz Giba put it. It began with guests from KCSO.

UNDERSHERIFF JESSE ANDERSON: He began by acknowledging the Memphis murder of Tyre Nichols. “There are so many things I could say about the officers who were involved, but none of it is good.” He called Mr. Nichols’s death “a preventable loss of life.” He also insisted that KCSO’s culture “is nothing like” what happened in Memphis. “There’s definitely a cultural problem in that agency that we don’t have.” He said even the name of the team – now disbanded – that the officers were part of, SCORPION, was shocking and unbelievable. He then segued into the importance of thoroughly screening KCSO applicants, “even if that means we carry large numbers of vacancies for quite some time … We must be very diligent.”

On to the state of KCSO: “We’ve made significant steps forward, especially last year, with hiring more people, setting up a recruiting plan … We are really leading the way in our area for numbers of hires.” There are currently 112 vacancies. He said some new reruits are due out of the academy in spring. The vacancies are spread throughout the department: “We’re all sharing in the pain.” Training efforts are a challenge with 750 “commissioned people,” but KCSO is looking for opportunities wherever they can be found – de-escalation, active-bystander training (teaching officers that if their partners are “crossing a line … they have a duty to intervene to stop that”), and more.

Giba asked where recruitment efforts are focused – geographically, for example. “We go everywhere we can,” replied Anderson. “We’re all over looking for those opportunities for recruitment.” An attendee asked if deputies could be shown and named online; the reply was that some departments have had an issue with ID theft when trying that. For now, if you’re looking to contact a specific deputy, call your nearest precinct.

Anderson also said they’re working to form the Community Advisory Board that new Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall announced, and said they’ve had a good number of applicants so far. “We’re looking forward to this,” he said of the future group.

Other attendee questions included Block Watch activity and concerns about gunfire activity suspected to be involved with a hookah lounge. An adjacent business owner wanted to know, “Is there anything going on with that establishment … that’s going to make the situation any safer?” Deputy Bill Kennamer said, “Yes,” and mentioned permitting and other investigations under way. “It is number one on my list of things and I’ve been working to get the place legally shut down … if they can’t control their business and the people surrounding their business … then it becomes a nuisance business.” The nearby business owner said that he’s worried on Friday and Saturday nights that “bullets are going to come through the wall.” Local Services director John Taylor affirmed that they’re working on a variety of fronts. Various discussion of potential logistics ensued. The business owner concluded, “It’s very reassuring to hear (this is) very much on the radar.”

Another attendee brought up fireworks, which became illegal in unincorporated King County as of last year. He said his neighborhood becomes “World War III” around the 4th of July. What’s the plan to deter it? he asked. Taylor fielded the question. He agreed it’s a serious problem – “it isn’t just lighthearted fun” – with the deadly fire just a few years ago. Last year they just did warnings, he recapped, but they’ve set up a system for reporting violations; last year they got more than 700 complaints. They sent letters to them all this past year, with warnings. They had about as third that many complaints on New Year’s Eve. If they get a complaint again this year for somebody who got a warning this year, they’ll face a penalty. “Anyone who sets off fireworks is going to get contacted by us,” Taylor promised. Deputy Kennamer pointed out that the retail outlets are already gone, so that means far less availability.

The next KCSO guest was Major Mark Konoske, local precinct commander. He talked about oversight – reporting misconduct and how it’s investigated, with an independent agency getting involved. Giba then asked how he’s dealing with the new role. Lots of calls for service, and it gives them a sense of purpose – “very fulfilling,” he said. He had previous experience in the precinct, two, including as a sergeant, and then briefly as an interim chief of Burien Police. He also introduced Community Service Officer Nate Hammock, who’s been a CSO since August. “What I do is provide non-law enforcement services to the community … (as a) relief to deputies … I’m not a law-enforcement officer,” but he can certainly handle questions about law enforcement. Don’t call him if there’s an emergency. “What we do is respond to, most commonly, found property … I’ve returned a lot of stuff recently. ” He can also check residences by request when people go out of town, give presentations on safety to schools and churches, and drive around to serve as a deterrent. He recently helped White Center Heights Elementary improve crosswalk visibility. “I’m just trying to be proactive.” CSO’s also plan and attend community events (“Shop With a Cop” was one example he gave).

LEAD: Project manager Aaron Burkhalter for North Highline and Burien headed up a big delegation at the meeting. He said the program’s now more than a decade old, having started in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, as a better way of dealing with people “cycling over and over again” into and out of the jail system. They help clients with a variety of services and resources. “What are their long-term goals?” is one question with which they deal with clients. “The program has expanded internationally” and now operates in all of Seattle’s precincts. They often get referrals from law-enforcement officers like Deputy Kennamer. LEAD is “pre-arrest diversion” but ideally they will be able to work with people long before it gets to the arrest stage.

A year and a half has now passed since LEAD started working in White Center. Burkhalter said they currently are working actively with 3 people and are trying to establish relationships with more than 20 others. He said LEAD has a “secret sauce” in getting people to sit down together – from social workers to law-enforcement officers to prosecutors – to talk about the clients. “The people we work with have legal involvement,” maybe cases, maybe warrants, maybe regular law-enforcement contact. Asked by Giba about whether LEAD represents clients in court, Burkhalter said no, but LEAD does have a legal team that “jumps in” on occasion with a complicated case, and case managers can provide support and clarity when the court matter relates to the work they’re doing with a client.

Burkhalter also clarified that LEAD is “not a homelessness program … it’s a public-safety program,” though housing is of course an issue for many of their clients, “and that’s why the case-management piece of this is so critical.”

Next to speak was Aleczandria Jamerson, a program manager in the area. She spoke of their work establishing trust and building relationships with clients and other community members. She stressed that they’re working with people who are suffering – yes, their actions have effects on the community, but it’s important to understand where their clients are coming from – “the various traumas they’re dealing with on a daily basis can really affect their progress.”

It was also explained that “this is taxpayer-funded work.”

Case manager Khalil Butler introduced himself. “I’m out there with my feet on the ground three to five days a week.”
Senior case manager Reese followed, the senior case manager for Community Passageways through LEAD, joining the agency about a month and a half ago. Shanisse, also a relatively new arrival via Community Passageways, is focusing on the Recovery Navigator Program. Giba asked what percentage of the people they deal within in White Center “have a drug problem.’ Answer: “100 percent … that often presents with co-occurring things like mental and behavioral crises that they’re going through at one time.” Is decriminalizing drugs a healthy approach? Giba asked. Aleczandria said they come from a “harm reduction” approach. She says that many of them had a life event that triggered this – they did not start with drug addiction, they had, perhaps a mental health crisis, and now substances help them cope with what their living situations are. So decriminalizing drugs is a complicated issue. “If we begin to address what their basic needs are, then maybe we can begin to prevent … worse behaviors. … In an ideal world we’ll talk about deflection rather than diversion.” That means getting to the root of the problem rather than just treating “the symptoms.” Butler said that “positive change isn’t something you can force on people ,.. they have to want to.” And meeting their needs first is a more successful approach. “I would challenge anybody in this room to sleep for one night on the concrete in 25-degree weather sober.” One attendee asked how they connect, because he’s seen people suffering on the street and is at a loss to figure out what to do. They get referrals, Aleczandria said, but they also are out in White Center all the time. They might offer a sandwich to make a connection and explain themselves, offer their card, so the people they meet can reach out when they’re ready. She also noted that some people refuse shelter because they’ve had horrible experiences at shelters, which aren’t always safe. The LEAD people build relationships and do a “warm handoff” when the people they’re dealing with are ready. They also know that “today may look very different from tomorrow” for people in need. They “chip away” at the barriers keeping people from moving into something better – ID, a phone, etc.

NORTH HIGHLINE CRIME UPDATES: Deputy Kennamer said Part 1 crimes are at the lowest they’ve been in January in several years (*47). There’ve been two homicides in recent weeks, and a shooting the previous night, One homicide was a stabbing – we don’t know where it started but the victim got onto a bus in Greenbridge, took the bus to St. Anthony’s, they transferred him to Harborview and he died there. They think he might have been living in an encampment near Westcrest Park. Then there was a domestic violence stabbing in the 400 block of SW 110th – the suspect was arrested and booked that night. The most recent shooting victim – Wednesday night on 8th Place – is expected to live, but it’s an open/active case, so the deputy didn’t have additional information. NHUSC’s Barbara Dpbkin noted an increase in graffiti vandalism; Kennamer said there’s definitely an uptick in “Latino gang graffiti.” The county does not have a law requiring property owners to clean it up.

NHUAC BOARD NEEDS MEMBERS: Want to get involved? Contact NHUAC!

NEXT MEETING: NHUAC meets most first Thursdays, 7 pm, online until they find an in-person meeting place again.

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