Roughly a third of Burienites reported feeling unsafe in their neighborhoods in 2018. Just as many said they don’t believe people are treated respectfully regardless of their differences in Burien.
Those are just a couple of takeaways from the city’s most recent biennial Community Assessment Survey, which found that residents in 2018 considered public safety, affordable housing, crime and homelessness to be the most important issues facing the city in the next five years.
While satisfaction with the Burien Police Department held steady relative to past years, dissatisfaction jumped to an all-time high. And while a healthy majority agreed the city wasn’t doing enough to prevent car break-ins, burglaries and youth violence, just as many had no opinion on whether the city was doing enough to prevent domestic violence, and another 16 percent felt plenty was being done about it.
Affordable housing was the top reason residents decided to live in Burien, and a majority said housing in Burien is affordable. However, the 36 percent of residents who said it’s not affordable were more likely to be young, Black or Latino. The top thing the city could do to address housing needs, according to half of the Burienites surveyed, was to create more job opportunities, followed closely by increasing availability of affordable housing and addressing substandard housing.
We wondered what Burien’s city council candidates think of those findings, whether they believe the current council is adequately confronting those findings and what they believe the city could be doing differently.
That is the focus of the third question in our six-part Burien City Council Candidate Q&A series leading up to the Aug. 3 primary election. Each day, we are hearing from the candidates – 11 of whom submitted responses – on one question.
Today’s question is:
The city’s most recent biennial Community Assessment Survey (2018) found that public safety (50%), affordable housing (36%), crime (22%) and homelessness (22%) were considered the most important issues facing the city in the next five years. At the same time, a greater percentage of residents reported feeling unsafe in Burien (31% in 2018 compared with 23% in 2016) while dissatisfaction with the Burien Police Department hit an all-time high of 27%, compared with 10% in 2010. Do you feel the current city council is adequately addressing these concerns? If so, what more, if anything, do you believe the city should do to address those concerns? If not, what would you propose the city do differently?
EDITOR’S NOTE: Each candidate’s name links to their website; click on it if you want to learn more about them.
Position No. 1:
It’s important for us to frame the four greatest concerns in the 2018 survey as inter-related. A nuanced understanding of these things will help us create a stronger sense of community, not just for those who filled out the survey, but for all who live and work in Burien.
And key to this is working with other cities in south King County in an inter-related way, as well. The council must continue to move toward organizing and connecting Burien to regional and statewide policies that serve as solutions to these concerns.
The difference between 2018 and 2021 is night and day, considering we’re still living through a pandemic and, hopefully, are finding new, more collaborative ways to resource our people.
In my personal canvassing of over 4,000 homes in 15 of Burien’s 18 neighborhoods, safety, personal and property theft are the foremost concerns. Residents and businesses complained repeatedly that they are increasingly victims of crime.
The primary responsibility of any municipality is the safety of its people. However, no one wants to fund more police than required to keep residents and businesses from being victims of crime. Police are not the only solution to this problem, but without them, there is no solution. Other tools that will help reduce victimization include expanding the LEAD program to include residents who will engage with nonviolent offenders, helping them integrate into functioning and healthy communities, additional mental health and other skilled personnel to redirect and potentially resolve conflict without police presence.
We currently have two obstacles to restoring an adequate police force. First, we are down five police officers from our budgeted target due to the shortage in the King County Sheriff’s Office, our contractual partners for police officers. Secondly, that target still leaves us significantly short of the need. We have the lowest ratio of police per 1,000 residents of any city in King County. Additionally, the cumbersome rules of engagement dictated by our courts increasingly bind our officers from effective public safety. To restore the ratio Burien deemed necessary before annexation, we would need to hire 15 additional officers.
A council supportive of our police force is the first step to a safer city. If we have incompetent officers, they should be removed, and I am confident Chief Ted Boe would be the first to agree. If the above steps do not significantly reduce the victimization of residents and businesses from crime, then we will need to investigate establishing our own police department, as several surrounding communities have enacted.
Position No. 3:
Burien is a city experiencing significant growth, and with that comes some of the same challenges of many other diverse, largely working-class communities.
Cities must be visionary, proactive and willing to innovate outreach and engagement inclusive of all socio-economic segments. This will allow us to fare better than those communities that are reactive and are forced to deal with these issues once a crisis is at hand. This truly is a choice of pay now or pay later.
Our council can and must lead in genuinely inviting residents of all viewpoints a chance to be heard and be involved.
The city council is not addressing these concerns at all. The council majority does not even support discussing alternative approaches to public safety.
I would propose several things: first of all, re-examining our contract with the Sheriff’s Office to see if that is still the best option for addressing public safety in Burien or if we should adopt an alternative model. I also support hiring mental health professionals and caseworkers to be available 24/7 to respond to calls involving mental health or substance abuse issues.
It is also important to remember that a year ago there was a rally in town square where a thousand of our community members showed up to say that they did not feel safe with our current policing structure.
I support body cameras for all Burien officers. I support a citizen advisory board for police reform and oversight, with representation from the impacted segments of our community.
I support directing the city’s state and federal legislative lobbyists to lobby for measures that will end cash bail and qualified immunity and make other structural changes that would allow officers to be held accountable for their actions like every public employee should be.
Adequately for whom? For me, no. The last time I checked, we had 14 police vacancies in Burien.
The library, the transit center, Safeway, the area across from Burien Toyota and numerous other areas of Burien are riddled with unscrupulous individuals and trash. If we do not care for our streets and our city, then we are sending a message that we do not care, and therefore we are inadvertently welcoming this to our city.
We must take action and we must do it now. Ignoring this will not make it go away. Pretending it is not there will not work, either.
Position No. 5:
I am proud of the work Mayor Matta and the Latino Civic Alliance have done to build hope and support in the wake of the tragic killings of Elizabeth Juarez and Eveona Cortez. I believe that more needs to be done, but this is a good step in supporting youth by providing them with positive paths, and bringing families into a broader community of support before their youth become involved in crime.
Most crime in Burien is not of this magnitude. I believe that we need more types of response to 911 calls – particularly crisis response services for people with mental health issues – so that police can focus on actual crime instead of having to serve the additional role of behavioral health responders. Burien’s LEAD program is a good piece of this puzzle, but we need to add in emergency response options, as well.
Dissatisfaction with the police, and feelings of lack of safety, come from multiple directions, which I believe is reflected in this survey and needs to be teased out. During the Trump administration, police and immigration officers became more feared by immigrant and BIPOC communities as ICE raids grew in number and seriousness. The Black Lives Matter movement continues to highlight the disproportionate deaths of Black people by the police. I believe Burien needs to hire more bilingual and more female officers, and needs to continually build relationships between officers and the community they serve.
We are behind where we should be with housing of all kinds. As a city with about 85 percent of our lots zoned for single housing, we have very little room to increase density without changing our zoning, and we must do this in a thoughtful manner that builds strong neighborhoods each with easily accessible services.
It is no surprise that public safety is at the top of the list for the residents of Burien, and issues like crime, affordable housing and homelessness all play a role in this concern. When crime goes unchecked, it tends to escalate. I have witnessed this personally. We need to take this problem seriously.
The No. 1 complaint I have heard about the Burien Police Department is that the response times are slow, and that resolution of crimes committed is rare. In my opinion, Chief Ted Boe has done an excellent job with limited resources and an understaffed department. I believe that the root of the problem is a lack of funding and support for the Burien Police Department. If elected, I would work hard to make sure they get the resources they need to do their job.
Housing in Burien has become ridiculously expensive over the last few years. There are several causes of this, and they are not necessarily under the control of the local government. However, through programs like the Affordable Housing Demonstration Program, we can work to help make Burien more affordable for working families. I would like to see the city reach out and bring in more projects that give relief to hard-working, struggling families so that we can achieve a greater quality of life together.
I believe that everyone on our city council is doing what they think is right for their community, and I cannot in good conscience fault anyone for that. I’d like to talk more about what I would do to address these issues.
I’m sure everyone can agree that we need to hold our police force accountable for their actions. Sometimes, the police will not do anything to help you when it comes to property crimes such as vandalism or theft. I have had instances where I have called the police only for them to tell me that there is nothing they can do.
We cannot keep throwing money at this problem. We need to hold our police to a higher standard. I will fight for increased oversight, accountability and visibility within our police department.
Preventing people from becoming criminals is the cheapest long-term strategy for decreasing crime. I believe in increasing funding to education so that there can be more after-school programs and on-site mental health experts. Parents, especially those of color, often work inconsistent schedules.
After-school programs allow these folks to provide for their family while keeping their kids engaged at school and out of trouble. Mental health providers can help kids and teens address their mental health and get the help that they need in order to be successful.
Kids who don’t have these support structures in place will find it one way or another. I would love to see them find support at school rather than through gangs.
Position No. 7:
While I would like to see current data, I believe what this tells us is that the same methods that have been used year after year are not effective; we cannot keep perpetuating the cycle of arrest-jail-release.
I have championed arrest diversion programs that address the root causes of low-level crime, and I just voted in favor of adding a downtown storefront presence for a co-responder team of an officer, social worker and mental health professional to address public safety in the downtown core.
The No. 1 place to start with regard to safety is our interlocal agreement with the Sheriff’s Office, especially section 1.1.1. Burien is considered the “meat grinder” by police officers. Burien, by far, has the most calls for service of any contracted police department in King County. We need to re-write that agreement, which has not had any real changes since 2002.
Officers are faced with a constant load of 15 calls or more on their screens. They cannot possibly respond quickly to calls for service. They are in burn-out mode. They need $3 million more in order to provide fast calls for service. This is what we need to improve safety.
The section 1.1.1 also addresses the laws that need to be enforced. We are paying for it, but it’s not being delivered. The contract has many services we do not use but get invoiced for. Let’s focus on fast calls for service and beefing up section 1.1.1 to give our police clear instructions on what it takes for our citizens to feel safe.
Secondly, we need to build up our neighborhoods. None of our current council members can even name the 18 neighborhoods. Our neighborhoods are the foundation or platform to safety. Rather than spend $40,000 on more seminars and meetings, let’s spend funds to improve safety.
I encourage everyone reading this to install a Ring camera and use their system to better track and identify crime. If you cannot afford to buy a camera, then our city should provide one along with the installation. Some neighborhoods already do this, and it has been very effective.
Lastly, we need to build a neighborhood forum much like Nextdoor but designed around our neighborhoods so that we can communicate with something other than Nextdoor or The B-Town Blog.
I’m running for city council because the findings from the Community Assessment Survey are something that I feel, too.
As a mother to young children and an employee in a local small business, I believe the council has failed to prioritize the safety of our city. During certain times of the day, there are as few as three police officers on shift for the entire city. This isn’t adequate for a city the size of Burien.
With decisions like Enhanced Service Facilities, DESC and now the Department of Corrections looking for a home in Burien for their work-release program, the council is adding facilities throughout the city that will require more emergency services. However, they aren’t increasing the emergency services budget proportionally to fit the needs they’re creating. We can’t continually ask the Burien Police Department to do more with less.
I would vote to repeal the rezoning of Enhanced Service Facilities in all neighborhoods. I would have voted no on the DESC. I’ll do everything I can to prevent a Department of Corrections facility from coming into Burien. I will also look at all areas of the budget and see what we can cut so we can better fund the areas that will address the concerns of the community.
The results of the Community Assessment Survey are clear, and addressing these issues must be the priority of the council.