Sequim Police Chief Sheri Crain talks with a crowd at a Sequim Business Merchants meeting. She encouraged people to call police if they see something suspicious. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Sequim Police Chief Sheri Crain talks with a crowd at a Sequim Business Merchants meeting. She encouraged people to call police if they see something suspicious. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Church, merchants seek solutions for downtown concerns

Police chief says Sequim not becoming Seattle

SEQUIM — If you hear, see or experience something suspicious or illegal, call the police. That’s the message from Sequim Police Chief Sheri Crain to the city’s retailers and residents.

“Always. Every time. Even if it feels like every day,” she said.

“There’s a lot of case law [that] we can’t remove people because they’re just sitting there, or because they smell bad or because they talk to themselves.

“So we really work with our partners to help folks find housing, services and meet their needs.”

Crain and Deputy Chief Mike Hill were asked to address stakeholders by the Sequim Business Merchants Group. They spoke March 15 inside the Habitat Sequim Boutique Store.

Concerns are focused on a few individuals in Seal Street Park or outside Calvary Chapel Sequim whose actions have led business owners to call police.

Some of their calls included reports of loitering, shouting, littering, items being thrown at them and customers, being threatened, and/or intimidating actions, such as being purposefully blocked from their vehicles.

“There’s been some very freaky stuff,” said Caitlyn Knapple, owner of Pacific Mist books, in an interview.

Another new business owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said she has been escorted to her car by a police officer about 10 times in the last eight months after closing up for the day.

“I could call every day [for incidents],” she said.

While some actions may be illegal, Crain said the issues people face aren’t easy problems.

“What I hear a lot is we’re gonna turn into Seattle,” she said. “We’re not going to turn into Seattle because I want you to call every day. And every time we’ll go.

“Every time social services people will go. That’s how we’re trying to keep our community safe.”

What happens?

After each call, whether an emergency (9-1-1) or a non-emergency (360-683-7227), an officer will come and do an assessment, Crain said.

“Some people have good endings. Someone says I want to go to housing, get treatment, but then other days, they move somewhere else and don’t want to talk to anyone and don’t want to get help,” she said.

Having trained mental health professionals in the field is helping though, Crain said.

“Five years ago, we didn’t have people who would come out in the field and talk to people,” she said. “It’s new for our community and it’s a game changer.”

Said Sandra Allen, outreach services supervisor for Peninsula Behavioral Health: “Just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean something isn’t happening.

“These things take time,” she said.

She added that reporting people’s behaviors may reveal something they haven’t been seeing and they can communicate that it isn’t appropriate.

“Never assume nothing is happening,” Crain said. “Chances of that are pretty doggone slim.”

Hill said in an interview that a Designated Crisis Responder (DCR) reaches out to a person and, depending on the person’s actions, they reach out to various agencies/programs to see what actions and services may be needed, she said.

Free food

Some business owners say free food offered through Calvary’s Soup in the Alley, which opened last April, has attracted people who sleep outside the church and cause issues downtown.

Hans Bailey, pastor of Calvary Chapel Sequim, told merchants he was unaware he needed to police people outside the church.

“We have several tensions,” he said. “We want to be good neighbors … We also want to minister to these people because that’s what we’re called to do … We want to do what’s best for the community.”

He encouraged anyone with a concern to reach out about an issue related to the church/shop.

After the meeting, Bailey said in the past year, the church has received only one complaint.

“We have competing ministries as we want to see businesses thrive and we’re called to serve the homeless,” Bailey said. “We have to find a fine line between them.”

Organizers said since opening they’ve served more than 1,278 free meals along with many paid meals from a diverse clientele in the pay-what-you-can shop.

“We’re thrilled with what’s going on in there,” Bailey said.

At the meeting, Crain encouraged church leaders to connect with Olympic Community Actions Programs (OlyCAP), which manages the Caswell-Brown Village in Port Townsend, to see their business plan and standards.

“You can have expectations for people,” she said. “Don’t leave your crap here.”

Property

Asked about encampments and recreational vehicles, Crain said if they’re on private property then people should talk to the owner about a possible eviction process.

If they’re on public property, Hill said, case laws cover them differently.

“The problem is, [the RV or tent] is their home and we can’t evict people from their home,” Crain said. “We have to go through certain processes to evict them.”

As the RVs or tents are often temporarily in public places, Crain said they’ll either move before it goes far in the process and/or the towing company doesn’t have space or the time to move a vehicle, so the process starts over.

Crain said the police are continuing to work on solutions for a few errant RVs in the city.

“They are thorny, ugly, and are not going smoothly,” she said.

“We document pattern behavior and what we’ve done,” she added. “Eventually you can get around to doing something.”

Sam Schroeder, OlyCAP youth services manager, said various agencies are having conversations with Clallam County officials about safe places for RV parking, but nothing is set.

Allen and other social service agencies said speaking at Clallam County commissioner meetings would help speed up the process.

Andra Smith, Sequim Food Bank director, said in the last five years, partners with the Sequim Health and Housing Collaborative and the City of Sequim have been working on a plan to address many issues.

“You may not see [the work being done] and you may get frustrated,” she said. “We get frustrated too. Sometimes it’s one step forward and three steps backward. The city is really working to help the community and us.”

Treatment beds

In her years serving Sequim, Crain said she found people often assume the city is immune to homelessness.

“There’s not one town in this country that doesn’t have some sort of homeless problem,” she said. “The real kicker is how well you can address [issues include housing, crisis stabilization and treatment beds].”

Finding a treatment bed for people undergoing mental health issues is impossible, Crain added.

Allen said the closest detox center is in Oak Harbor, which creates many logistical problems.

“The stars really have to align for someone to go into treatment,” she said.

Changes in drug possession laws have limited enforcement, too, police leaders said.

“The way the law is written, they assumed people were doing them in the privacy of their own home,” Crain said.

“They didn’t realize people would be shooting up in their cars in the middle of a parking lot.”

While discussions are ongoing in the state Legislature, Crain said it’s up to politicians to fix the laws.

Beth Pratt, executive director of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the agency could provide support to members and non-members for lobbying efforts for items such as housing and treatment centers.

Theresa Rubens, owner of Forage Gifts and Northwest Treasures, said what they’re seeing in the city is a small portion of what’s happening in the county and state.

“It’s everywhere,” she said. “It’s going to take going to county commissioners’ meetings, contacting [local politicians] and keeping their attention because it takes a lot of money.”

Actions

Crain reiterated that people should call if they suspect something is illegal or off.

“If you go to Seattle, they’re not coming for a misdemeanor,” she said. “You’re not getting that here.”

If something happens to customers, Hill said they must call in or have some provided contact information as witnesses as it could be a criminal act.

Callers should always give a reason, too, as it could elicit a faster response, especially in an emergency.

If confronted inside a business, she said “good customer service will drive them away 95 percent of the time” and simply asking them to leave works too.

Rubens said with some businesses operating with one employee/owner at a time, she recommends a buddy system, leaving lights on, and removing obstructions, i.e. shrubbery and fencing.

Lighting and cameras could help capture a potential crime in action, Crain said.

”Are we ever going to forever prevent something from happening? Probably not. But can we charge a crime? If we have the facts that support it,” she said.

“Then that’s one mechanism to get people into treatment or the help they need.”

For more about the City of Sequim’s topical policies, see https://www.sequimwa.gov/1022/Fact-Sheets.

________

Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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