Addressing concerns from residents about increased crime and gang influences, City of Lynnwood officials offered some possible solutions during an Aug. 10 “Let’s Talk About Safety” meeting. Among them: creating more drop-in youth programs and reinstating school resource officers in local high schools.
Hosted by the Lynnwood City Council, the Lynnwood Police Department and other city staff, the gathering at Silver Creek Church was the second community safety event in the past two months.
A panel of six city staff answered community questions and discussed how the city is working to keep residents of Lynnwood safe.
“We acknowledge that things have been a little unsettled,” said Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell. “We want to assure you that we are aware of [the problems] and we are taking action.”
Frizzell said it is important for the community to work closely together to ensure everyone’s safety.
“We are very interested in what our community has to say,” she said. “We can stand up here and we can assume a lot of things but we really want to hear from you.”
Many of the questions asked were centered around what the city’s plans are for keeping youth out of gangs. On July 13, two teens were killed in what is believed to be gang violence in Spruce Park, and community members said they’re worried for their children’s safety in the city.
“My kid struggled a lot during the pandemic,” one resident said. “And I think to myself: that could have been my son. If he would have made the wrong friends, he could have been the one killed last month.”
Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department Director Lynn Sordel said his department is working hard to reinstate programs for youth to ensure they have a safe place in the community.
“We are doing whatever we can with whatever resources we have available to really get our youth involved in the parks,” Sordel said.
The department is planning to create drop-in activities for students at Cedar Valley Community School and develop a plethora of hands-on activities for other schools when doors open for the 2022-23 school year.
In addition, Sordel said the Lynnwood Recreation Center is working to schedule an open-door time on Saturday nights for teens to come in and use the facilities.
Lynnwood Municipal Court Judge Valerie Bouffiou said she wants to see the court implement the same kind of activities for youth.
“I want to reach out and engage with youth before they have the opportunity to have a negative interaction with the legal system,” Bouffiou said.
Lynnwood Police Chief Jim Nelson said that the pandemic has limited police interaction with young people. While many police events, camps and activities have started up again, Nelson said police officers still don’t have as much positive interaction as they’d like.
“Unfortunately, where we’re at now, our interaction [with the youth] is typically after things have started to go down a bad bath,” he said.
However, Nelson said the police department isn’t letting that deter them from working hard to continue engaging with kids as much as possible. The Lynnwood Police Department is working with Everett police and the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office to create a system of sharing resources for positive interaction with young people in the area.
Another way to encourage positive police-youth interaction, a community member said, would be to return school resources officers (SROs) to Edmonds School District high schools. Based on community concerns about the impact of police officers in schools following the death of George Floyd, the Edmonds School Board voted unanimously in June 2020 to cut ties with the Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace police departments. That was followed by a vote in August 2020 to cancel the district’s contract with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, which had supplied an officer to Lynnwood High School.
Nelson said the department has made itself available to the school district but has so far been told police officers are not needed at this time.
The police chief told community members to attend the Edmonds School District Board of Directors meetings and let the board know that SROs are wanted in the schools. The more voices that speak up about this, he said, the more likely the district is to allow officers back into the schools.
Sordel also voiced his support for school resource officers, saying that many of them would also patrol nearby parks during their shifts. This not only adds a level of safety in the schools, but also in the surrounding parks where children are likely to spend time before or after school.
Chief Nelson also answered questions regarding the number of officers the department currently has.
The police department employs 70 officers right now, and 80% of those are deployable to the community; the other 20% are strictly office employees. In addition, the Lynnwood City Council just approved six more paid positions. However, it will take approximately a year before the hired officers complete training and are ready to be dispatched into the community.
“Help is on the way,” Nelson said. “[We are trying] to get ahead of the staffing problem, not chase it.”
With that, Nelson said the new officers will be an asset to the city with expected population growth in the next 10 years.
“More people doesn’t mean ‘x’ amount of more crime,” he said, “But the extra officers will help.”
Nelson said the construction of new apartments will be accompanied by new safety measures in the City Center and near the new light rail line. Approximately a half-mile around the new City Center transit center will be illuminated with streetlights. The most frequented portions of the Interurban Trail will be elevated, and more lighting will be installed to deter crime and keep commuters safe.
The new officers will also help the police department patrol the city’s parks and other areas that transients tend to frequent. Lynnwood Police Commander Cole Langdon said the increase in population could also help deter transients from using the parks and the Interurban Trail as a place to set up camp.
“More people who are using the spaces how they’re supposed to be used, the less likely there will be creepers,” Langdon said.
Nelson and Langdon also urged the community to “See Something, Say Something.” The officers said the more that concerned citizens reach out with tips, the better the police department can work to improve the city’s safety.
The next “Let’s Talk About Safety” meeting is set to take place in October, and all are welcome to attend.
–Story and photo by Lauren Reichenbach