County Budget Cuts Have Left North Highline With Fewer Police
by Jack Mayne
Burien’s police chief say he was a bit perplexed at recent increases in crime in the unincorporated parts of the North Highline Unincorporated area, but believes his department can easily police the area if the Burien City Council and the voters of the area eventually do approve its annexation to the city.
The annexation matter is still under consideration by the state Boundary Review Board for King County. If it approves the proposed annexation, the Burien Council must ask voters in the so-called Area Y to vote in favor of becoming part of the city.
During recent Boundary Review hearings, Chief Scott Kimerer said there were some “relatively minor increases” in crime in the northern half of the North Highline and the White Center business and residential area.
During a recent period, overall statistics for “Part One” crimes – more serious offenses such as assaults and robbery – were 54 incidents per thousand residents in Burien, while the number for North Highline was 65 incidents per thousand people.
“Not a huge difference,” he said, but in the past both areas were about 62 violent crimes per thousand.
For “Part Two,” or lesser crimes, the recent comparison was 66 per thousand for Burien, versus 69 per thousand in North Highline – “so very similar,” said the chief.
One reason the county wants North Highline to become part of a city (Burien, Seattle or Tukwila) is that counties have fewer ways to tax residents and offer higher urban services. That means there are as many as half as many deputies patrolling the area than there used to be.
That could account for the increase in crime rate, Kimerer said in a recent interview.
“Like I said at the (annexation hearing), I was a little bit surprised because in studying crime up there for the almost nine years that I have been (Burien Police chief), the crime rates have always been very similar.”
“You could say at times there might be a concentration of crime in the White Center area, however you could also say there could be a concentration of crime in the downtown Burien core,” the chief said.
Kimerer said the annexation of the southern half of North Highline was mostly residential areas, very little business. But the majority of the area still unincorporated is where business is located.
The King County Sheriff’s office has “had a budget crisis” in the past couple of years.
“The sheriff’s office has taken some serious cuts in officers and staffing – the staffing is not what it was four years ago up in White Center,” Kimerer said.
People need to remember that Kimerer and all blue uniformed members of the Burien Police are actually deputies in the King County Sheriff’s Department, contracted and paid by Burien taxpayers. While he has been chief in Burien for just under a decade, he is also a major in the Sheriff’s department.
The Burien contract has permitted Kimerer to maintain the same number of officers.
King County had to cut the White Center storefront position, at 9609 16th Ave. SW for almost a year until funds were found to restore it. Still there are about two officers per shift on duty there, down from up to four before cuts.
“I think people don’t realize the value of that storefront position in crime reduction and community involvement to help drive down the crime rates,” Kimerer said. “All the cuts bunched together showed indicators that the crime rate went up.”
Kimerer said he would keep the storefront open if Burien annexes the area and would even keep the same deputy since the Sheriff’s department manages the individual from his department who would reopen the storefront. The deputy that works the office does not answer calls, but is available in the business community and can advise store operators on ways to cut down on crime and how to control nuisances by panhandlers or those under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“It is community interaction, getting together with the businesses, talking about what their issues are, trying to find solutions, trying to build relationships up there amongst us and them and with each other to really drive down the people that are causing the problems.”
The chief also said he did not need as many officers to handle the unincorporated area that Seattle said in a study its department would need.
“Seattle said they would have to put all of those officers in there and then turned around and said they could not afford it,” Kimerer said. “Well, I could make a claim of putting a whole bunch of officers in there that I can’t afford but it is about being realistic. We all have budget concerns.”
Seattle has a “fine department” but he didn’t think policing the area would take as many officers as they had claimed – 44 added police officers – while Kimerer figured he would need only 15 additional officers.
The added officers for Burien to cover the proposed new annexed area would mean he had that many additional officers to use anywhere in Burien, as needed.
“It would become a much more robust department,” Kimerer said.