Friday, July 29, 2016

Safe & Healthy Communities Forum discusses law enforcement, homlessness, and addiction

Councilmember Mike O'Brien hosted a Safe & Healthy Communities Public Forum on July 27. The forum may be viewed on the Seattle Channel.

The program started with Seattle Police Assistant Chief Steve Wilske talking about community policing, a model that enables police officers and community members to know each other, allowing police to address specific concerns of neighbors. The SPD Community Police Team (CPT) currently spends the majority of their time working with the homeless population. Chief Wiske noted that while some homelessness is due to economic reasons it's SPD's experience that more often homelessness in Seattle is related to addiction.

With that in mind, the primary goal of SPD officers is to help people dealing with addiction to get the help they need. They have developed relationships with services in the community so they can connect people to them. He stated that SPD has "zero interest in criminalizing homelessness." He noted that 254 people are living in RVs in the north end.

Assistant Chief Wiske also shared that property crime has increased citywide with the largest increases in NE and SW Seattle. When people are arrested by police for property crimes, officers often find that they are drug addicted. Therefore, drug-related services are essential. At the same time, he noted that while we need to address underlying issues like drug addiction, there is still a need to enforce the law around property crimes.

Lisa Dugaard, Director of the Public Defenders Association, spoke about how law enforcement and justice system response to public health-related issues like drug addiction do not fix the problem. She spoke about recent conversations to bridge the real or perceived gap between law enforcement and public health responses and about innovative programs including:
  • LEAD - Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program that connects people who engage in low level drug-related crimes with community-based interventions instead of jail when appropriate.
  • Crisis response app development - SPD recently was awarded a grant to develop an app that makes crisis response plans for people in crisis immediately available to police.
  • Safe consumption sites for people who will use drugs in public no matter what. The sites allow people who are using drugs in public to do so in a supervised place so that they can connect with other services.
These are just a few strategies for increasing public safety in neighborhoods that aren't necessarily traditionally considered law enforcement approaches.

Alison Eisinger, Executive Director for Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, wrapped up the speaker portion of the meeting talking about homelessness in Seattle.

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