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Poulsbo mayor introduces plan to fight heroin

Poulsbo
Poulsbo's police chief showed images such as this one to the city council on Nov. 13 to illustrate the need for more officers.
— image credit: Courtesy of the Poulsbo Police Department

POULSBO — Poulsbo parks will soon capture more than the beauty of the season, or contribute to the scenic landscape of the city. Soon, they will capture all park activity on camera — and, the mayor hopes, contribute to heroin busts.

Cameras are planned for installation in city parks, and park hours will now be strictly enforced. Poulsbo residents are also being encouraged to use their smart phones to photograph suspicious behavior and email it to a city email address.

The tech-savvy developments are part of Mayor Becky Erickson’s action plan to combat the rising use of heroin in the community.

“This is our town, and we all love it,” Erickson told the City Council Nov. 20. “I don’t know about you folks, but I’m not tolerating this. We can’t cure addiction and we are not going to stop drugs from coming into our community, but we certainly can combat the behavior.”

Poulsbo Police Chief Alan Townsend made a dramatic presentation Nov. 13 about the city’s heroin problem and the crime left in its wake. This week, the mayor responded.

“I haven’t had a lot of sleep since last Wednesday, to tell you the truth,” she said. “I did a lot of reading about how other communities fight drugs.”

Erickson said there is a lot of information about treatment and health policies, but there is not as much information about how to tactically fight the problem. She even spoke with Kitsap County Health District Director Scott Lindquist; Erickson said they talked about needle exchanges and how well they work. She did not say that an exchange was planned for Poulsbo, but hinted that the topic may come around in the future.

“Stay tuned for that conversation,” Erickson said.

But still, the mayor found no “cookbook” with a recipe for fighting heroin use. So she decided to write her own.

“Somebody has to write this stuff down, what works, and what doesn’t,” Erickson said. “And that is what we are going to do.”

The mayor’s action plan includes four focus areas: the police department, the public works department, the mayor’s office, and the community. It was discussed with city staff on Nov. 18. Erickson said the city has begun putting it into play. The mayor will report to the council frequently on its progress.

Erickson addressed the chief’s main request from last week — funding an additional officer. She said the department needs two officers, made evident through overtime hours. She said she will recommend to the council a series of 2014 budget modifications, including holding off on purchases of new cars and computers.

Public Works will no longer collect needles and other paraphernalia found around city properties, such as parks. Instead, they will call 911 and the police will properly receive them. Erickson said the city is working with county health officials to properly dispose of the needles the city has collected over the past year.

Police will increase patrols, particularly in areas where paraphernalia is found. When paraphernalia is collected, the location will be filed in a new database to help law enforcement and city officials track troublesome areas.

Security cameras will be installed in various parks around the city. They will be made visible to the public.

“If you are doing things that you shouldn’t be doing in our parks, you are going to get caught on camera,” Erickson said. “Our parks close at dusk; that is going to be enforced from now on.”

The city has set up an email account, takeapicture@cityofpoulsbo.com, so residents can send pictures of suspicious activity.

“Take a picture, be a hero,” Erickson said. “Everybody has smartphones now. If you see something that looks odd to you, take a picture and send it to the city.”

The mayor also is proposing a program called the “Scarlet Letter.”

“We’re going to encourage our newspapers to report when there is a drug arrest,” Erickson said. “Who is it, where did it happen. Get it out in the papers so people know if they are going to do that sort of stuff in Poulsbo, your name is going to be in the paper.”

Erickson will also petition the Legislature to develop a special benefit district; if approved by voters, it would add a tax to fund public safety.

“I’m talking about one-tenth of 1 percent for public safety,” she said. “The citizens will have to approve this, but we have to fund public safety.”

The council’s response was generally supportive.

“I love what the mayor has done,” Councilwoman Linda Berry-Maraist said.

Councilman David Musgrove said, “We do have a tight and caring community compared to most. Playing on that strength, the community as a whole here can be far more effective than just police officers or other resources.”

The council and the mayor stressed that the heroin problem is not Poulsbo’s alone.

“I’m doing this tonight because the police brought it to us,” Erickson said. “But what I have learned is that this is going on everywhere in the United States, and certainly everywhere in Kitsap County. It’s not unique to us, but Poulsbo is not going to put up with it. Zero tolerance.”

The mayor's four-area action plan

Mayor's office:
— Reach out to Kitsap County Health District for information and potential funding.
— Reach out to Kitsap County Sheriff's Office for personnel support for additional detective.
— Coordinate with school district for drug education.
— Implement data analysis to document what actions work and what doesn't, arrests, incidents, service calls, and paraphernalia log.
— Scarlet Letter Program: make sure that drug arrests are published in local newspapers.
— Special benefit district to fund public safety personnel.

Public Works:
Public Works will no longer handle any paraphernalia. Instead, employees will report incidents to police.
Parking lot at American Legion Park will be closed.
Security cameras will be increased in certain locations.
Parks closed at dusk.

Police Department:
— Increase patrols in parks and locations identified with paraphernalia.
— All paraphernalia found and reported will be logged to establish a database of activity.
— Increased bicycle patrols.
— Use community service personnel to clean camps after appropriate training.
— Request for additional personnel with shift in emphasis from capital purchases to increased labor.
— Enforce park closing hours.

Community:
— Adopt a park program. Have neighbors watching their own neighborhood parks with standards developed by the police department and parks and recreation commission.
— "Take a picture: Be a hero" program. Using smartphones to record suspicious activity, and email photos to takeapicture@cityofpoulsbo.com.
— Do not give money to panhandlers on roadways.
— Call 911 to report all drug paraphernalia for disposal.
— Educational outreach for those that want greater information about what is occurring (to be announced).


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