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EVERETT – Mayor Ray Stephanson and Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman issued the following statement today:
In recent weeks we’ve received questions about the “Tweakerville” sign and camera put up by Gary Watts, a business owner on Smith Avenue. We recognize Mr. Watts’ right to express his opinion. However, we believe it’s important to provide the City’s perspective, and to correct some of the misinformation that is being shared.
First, we sympathize with Mr. Watts’ frustrations, and with other business owners and residents who are disproportionately affected by issues on our streets. The challenges that he and others are facing are unacceptable, and don’t reflect the quality of life that we hope to achieve for our community.
This is not a question of whether or not there is a problem on our streets. We all understand and acknowledge that we are experiencing an opioid epidemic, rising levels of homelessness and individuals with untreated mental illness on our streets – as are communities across the country. The question is, how do we respond constructively to those problems? What approach moves us toward a positive future for Everett?
These are challenges that touch every part of our community – businesses, families, schools, churches, people with homes and people without. They also greatly impact City departments and resources.
The City has taken significant steps to address these challenges. We’ve invested in enforcement in high-activity areas and added a dedicated police team with embedded social workers who conduct targeted, intensive outreach to those on the streets. We’ve invested in diversion programs, like the Safe Streets Work Crew and the Municipal Court’s Mental Health Alternatives Program, that help break the expensive criminal justice cycle and put individuals on a more productive path. We’ve invested in education through public forums and community meetings. We’ve invested in supportive housing, and advocated for increased treatment capacity for our county. This spring we took the unprecedented step of suing Purdue Pharmaceuticals to hold them accountable for the damage the opioid epidemic has caused in Everett.
We’ve also paid special attention to areas of our community that have been particularly hard hit by these challenges. We’ve been working with business owners on Smith Avenue, including Mr. Watts, for more than a year to learn about their concerns and develop responses. In fact, through the Smith Avenue stakeholder group, one business owner offered Everett Police the use of his building for undercover surveillance efforts, resulting in several arrests.
Between November 2015 and December 2016, our police anti-crime unit and patrol officers made 277 arrests on Smith Avenue, including 27 prolific drug dealers who were supplying drugs to those on the streets. From those dealers, officers seized 1,685 grams of heroin, 402 grams of meth, 75 grams of cocaine, OxyContin and Suboxone pills, two vehicles, several weapons, and more than $66,500 in cash. 2015 drug-related arrests at this location were up 2,092 percent over 2014, and 2016 drug-related arrests were up 858 percent over 2014. There were nearly 3,000 police overtime hours dedicated to this location in 2016, in addition to regular patrol hours.
In addition to law enforcement efforts, we’ve provided cleanups of the street and sidewalk three times a week for the past year, and work crew participants have picked up another 18,400 gallons of garbage in the area. We’ve added parking restrictions and enforcement to discourage overnight camping in vehicles, and added fencing and lighting under the overpass. We’ve provided business owners with crime prevention training and consultation. We’ve done public education campaigns to discourage people from donating directly to those on the streets.
We’ve seen progress in this neighborhood and we’ve seen setbacks, just as we have throughout our community; these are complex, deeply ingrained challenges, and they can’t be solved overnight.
While we will continue to enforce against those committing crimes on our streets, we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. It is clear from the data above that police presence and enforcement on Smith Avenue has been constant and consistent. While our officers continue to make arrests, most of those arrested for drug offenses or other minor crimes are quickly released from jail (average jail stay is 12 days) and nearly every time, they return to the same location and engage in the same behavior.
It can be tempting to focus on the negative and on the short-term. It is also tempting to paint all those on the street with the same brush, to assume that they are all homeless, all addicts, all committing crimes. That is a dangerous oversimplification, and it ignores the complexity of the issues we see on our streets.
At the City, we have spent the past several years focusing on effective, innovative programs that will have long-term, positive outcomes for our community, both those on the streets and those who are impacted by street-level social issues. That means understanding why people are on the streets and what it would take to get them off the streets for the long-term, not just a short stint in jail.
These solutions aren’t easy, and they can’t be accomplished by the City or Everett Police alone. Real change in Everett will require more access to timely drug and mental health treatment, day centers for people to gather off the streets, and more effective enforcement tools for individuals committing low-level crimes who are not amenable to services.
We are fortunate to have incredible service providers, nonprofits and government partners here in Everett who are committed to helping those on the streets connect with services, treatment and housing. Many of them participated on the Community Streets Initiative task force in 2014, which laid the groundwork for many of the programs the City is now implementing.
We are also fortunate to have active, compassionate, creative residents and business owners who believe in this community and want to be a part of positive solutions to the challenges that affect all of us. For those who are moved to action by the “Tweakerville” camera, we encourage you to join us in this important and difficult work. Visit www.everettwa.gov/safestreets to learn more.