Lynnwood City Council hears safety updates from police department

The Lynnwood City Council at its Feb. 20 work session heard multiple reports from the Lynnwood Police Department about its efforts to address the issues of homelessness and drug addiction and to provide a safer community for all Lynnwood residents.

Lynnwood Police Chief Tom Davis shared with the city council more information on the proposed Lynnwood Community Justice Center. The project comes in the wake of several space studies conducted over the past 20 years at the police department, which have indicated the department needs extra room, Davis said.

The project is expected to cost $46.3 million to $48.8 million and would allow expansion in many areas, including a new public entry for safer public screening, another courtroom and a private assessment area. The department also needs a proper medical office, Davis said.

It also has the potential to be a partnership opportunity between the police department and Community Health Center of Snohomish County (CHCSC), Davis said, adding the police department and CHCSC have a shared interest in those who face barriers to health care.

“We have clients who have inconsistent medical care,” Davis said. “We have clients who have mental health and drug issues and many of those are underlying causes to their reincarceration.”

The Lynnwood Community Justice Center would provide a “continuous linkage of service” for those with mental health or substance abuse issues while they are incarcerated, Davis said.

“They’d continue their care with the same care provider, the same familiar face they’ve been receiving care from,” he said.

According to a 2018 survey conducted by Lynnwood police, 77 percent of inmates self-report challenges with substance abuse issues as a way to receive treatment in jail. Davis said this is a critical point for those in jail to seek the treatment they need.

The new facility would also have the space to house criminal evidence that the police department now pays rent to store at Edmonds Community College. The current Lynnwood jail, which has a 46-bed maximum occupancy, would provide space for 100 beds, meeting American Correctional Association (ACA) standards. With more space to house inmates and evidence, the department will save on outsourcing costs, Davis said.

Currently when there is no room in the Lynnwood jail, inmates are transported to other jails, which charge the city for housing them.

“If we’re able to bring them back into our facility, that would be incredible savings for us,” he said.

The city council also heard a review from police social worker Ashley Dawson about the police department’s efforts to approach the underlying causes of homelessness.

Dawson said the goal of her presentation was to “help frame the understanding of addiction and how we can intercept and stop the cycle,” she said.

Dawson is part of the police department’s Community Health and Safety Section, which works with the city to understand and address the rising issue of homelessness and the impact of drug addiction in the community. She said the department soon learned the solution is not always as simple finding someone a place to live.

Among the homeless population, there is a strong sense of community that is not easily forgotten, she said.

“We have this personal bias that if you have a house, that’s what matters,” Dawson said. “But if you don’t have your community, you’re missing out on that link.”

According to Dawson, the department found it takes six months of being homeless before it develops into a lifestyle that is hard to leave. She said some often fall into a learned behavior of doing what it takes to survive.

The city council also reviewed a proposed ordinance aimed at regulating those who interfere with pedestrian and vehicular traffic through aggressive solicitation. Police Commander Rodney Cohnheim told the council that the proposed ordinance would make such actions a misdemeanor that could result in 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Cohnheim said the department was careful to ensure the ordinance would not be used to displace or intimidate the homeless community.

“It’s about the persistence, the intimidation, some of our citizens have encountered,” he said. “This ordinance is solely designed to increase the safety of everybody involved.”

If the ordinance is passed, the police department will not immediately issue citations to violators, but instead will rely on education, Cohnheim said.

“During our outreach opportunities we’ll be sharing these ordinances with people and hoping to gain quick compliance,” he said.

— By Cody Sexton

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