The Olympia Police Department ended its downtown walking patrols earlier this year due to staff shortages and other limits on resources.
Voters have a chance to restore those patrols to full strength — and do much more — by approving the City Council’s public safety measure on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Proposition 1 asks voters to approve a property tax levy to raise approximately $2.85 million a year. This money would let the council restore police walking patrols, add staff for community or neighborhood policing, augment current police officer training at a time police are being asked to do more, and pay for a response team to help mentally ill people off the streets and into treatment.
Olympia voters have been generous in the past when it comes to meeting community needs. We recommend support for this measure, too.
All of Prop. 1’s pieces dovetail with past city efforts to bring forward-thinking approaches to policing and to address downtown homelessness. The cost to homeowners is estimated at about 45 cents per assessed property valuation. That works out to about $112.50 per year for the owner of a $250,000 home and lot.
“This has been called a non-traditional public safety package for a reason,” says Police Chief Ronnie Roberts. “It’s not just getting cops on the street. We are trying to create (pathways) for success with many of the challenges our community faces.’’
Mayor Cheryl Selby and the City Council are not pledging exact staffing or spending allocations — in order to stay flexible, as Selby put it. That makes sense to a degree. Things change, and we remember criticism lobbed at the city over its 2015 parks bond, which came after the Great Recession made it impossible to deliver on parks-acquisition goals pledged in a tax measure a decade earlier.
But, Chief Roberts does say Prop. 1 will let him put four officers on walking patrols downtown with two officers deployed during the day and two during evenings. The new money would also pay for a supervising sergeant, equipment, and training.
The walking patrol has been popular in the past with merchants and shoppers. It is a piece of city efforts revitalize the downtown, curb crime and bring more permanent residents into the new housing being constructed in the downtown.
The police department would use some of the new tax dollars to create neighborhood policing teams. This could mean two new officers, a sergeant, code enforcement staff, and neighborhood liaisons.
The city would also contract with a private mental health provider to put as many as four social service responders on the street. These would assist and refer distressed individuals with acute mental illnesses to proper care.
Selby says other new funds can help the city continue its community-court pilot program, which has an expiring federal grant.
These are all worthwhile goals.
Even Tenino-based tax critic Glen Morgan, who wrote the voter pamphlet statement against Prop. 1, agrees the proposed public safety programs are good ones. But Morgan thinks the city should tighten its budgeting and spending to shift money to public safety from things that may be a lower priority.
Morgan advocates for a more public line-item review of budgets, which is worth a look. Residents who agree with Morgan’s approach should bring a proposal directly to the City Council at later date.
The public-safety measure is one of two in the works for Olympia. The council is also developing a housing proposal for the February ballot.
Referred to by some as the Home Fund proposal, this second measure would raise the city sales tax in order to build supported housing units for highly vulnerable people. This second piece can fill a gap in the continuum of housing services available in our South Sound communities.
The housing issue is a ways off, but policing and mental health services are important city priorities that are inextricably bound.
Together the two proposals can clear the way for Olympia’s broader use of community-oriented policing to nip trouble in the bud, make streets safer and get mental health care and shelter to the most vulnerable people on our streets.
The recent opening of the Community Care Center — led by the Providence St. Peter Hospital’s foundation but helped by a few dozen other organizations — is another major step in that direction. So was the county’s opening of a triage center at the jail last year to steer mentally ill offenders into treatment.
Passage of Prop. 1 would make it clear that these are priorities our community wants to support over the long haul. Support Proposition 1.