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Good news and bad: Standing-room North Bend crowd discusses fears of crime, drugs and homeless at community meeting

Close to 200 North Bend residents filled the room, sitting on the floors and standing against walls to have a say and a listen about the city’s efforts to maintain and improve public safety on Thursday, May 16, three days after an intruder was killed in a home just outside the city limits. Crime, the homeless and drug use were the top concerns of residents.  - Photo by Mary Miller
Close to 200 North Bend residents filled the room, sitting on the floors and standing against walls to have a say and a listen about the city’s efforts to maintain and improve public safety on Thursday, May 16, three days after an intruder was killed in a home just outside the city limits. Crime, the homeless and drug use were the top concerns of residents.
— image credit: Photo by Mary Miller

He was in a minority of two in a community safety meeting Thursday night, but Dave Black offered the roughly 200 people there some good news. It was regarding a drug dealer that he’d previously complained to the North Bend City Council and police about, a drug dealer who was now gone.

“He did it,” Black said, pointing to North Bend’s Police Chief Mark Toner. He “got them out of there” in a few weeks’ time, Black said, but not alone. “You have to work as a team,” Black told the audience, nearly all of whom were tense after a recent series of break-ins and last Monday’s home invasion and homicide just outside the city. “Don’t be afraid, write plates down, call him, tell him—we are a community and a team—if you don’t, you are part of the problem."

Few could agree, though, on what the actual problem was. The purpose of the meeting, according to the city officials who organized it in response to community fears following the Monday, May 13, fatal stabbing of a home intruder, was to listen to the public’s questions, and discuss what the city was doing for public safety.

Residents shared stories about witnessing dangerous and criminal activity on city streets, about picking up litter and finding used hypodermic needles, about finding items like strange backpacks and clothing in their fully fenced yards, about following the last bus into the city at night and being shocked by the appearance of people getting off that bus, and about no longer feeling safe in their city.

They gave voice to concerns about taking their children to city parks, in case a child should find a needle and pick it up, about sex offenders living in the city (there are two in North Bend city limits according to the King County Sheriff’s Office Sex Offender Unit), and about how North Bend is becoming “easy pickings” to a growing population of criminals, drug users, and transients.

In nearly equal numbers, though, they talked about how the city’s actions have endangered public safety, by forcing homeless campers off public land and onto private properties, of the need for compassion for the homeless and drug users, and the need for outreach to young people.

Homeless questions

Librarian Irene Wickstrom, who joined Black in the good-news minority, described how the King County Library System is working with clients of the Mount Si Food Bank, bringing in a mobile technology lab one Wednesday each month to help people with job searches and writing resumes.

Much of the audience responded positively to her report, but remained divided the rest of the evening in how to treat homeless people.

Homelessness, though, was not a factor in Monday’s incident, Toner told the group.

Kenneth Boonstra, the 48-year-old man killed by residents after breaking into their home early Monday was a North Bend resident.

“He has a job, he has a family. He is any one of us,” Toner said.

Another intruder, shot and killed by residents in self-defense in the Si View neighborhood in March, 2012, had been a lifelong North Bend resident Toner said.

He went on to detail some of the major crimes that occurred in the city in the past, most of which involved local residents as both criminal and victim, and then went further back, to serial killers Gary Ridgeway and Ted Bundy, some of whose victims’ bodies have been recovered in the area.

“They came here for the same reasons you’re here,” Toner told the audience. “It’s nice here.”

North Bend Police Chief and King County Sgt. Mark Toner speaks to the crowd at a May 16 public meeting. Mary Miller photo.

Lock your doors

Toner attempted to address all residents’ concerns, which he said fell into six main categories, significant crimes, crime prevention, drug use, the homeless, the homeless shelter that operated last winter in North Bend and sex offenders. He lacked the time to address them all, but emphasized education as at least a partial solution for some concerns.

For instance, regarding used needles, he recommended parents teach children that needles are “stranger danger” and not to be touched.

He also urged people to lock their doors, to not leave valuables or receipts lying in view in their cars, and to keep an eye out for their neighbors.

“You have to be able to rely on your neighbor, and he has to be able to rely on you,” Toner said.

On another issue, he said several residents had e-mailed him for recommendations on the best gun for home safety.

“That’s an easy one,” he said. “Get the kind of gun you want to be shot with.”

He went on to explain that people unfamiliar or uncomfortable with guns are more likely to lose them to an attacker in a confrontation.

To the question of why not take a day and shut down some of the known drug dealers in the city, he said the average drug case takes a lot of staff time and usually takes more than a month to close. Last year, he estimated his department had closed up six drug houses.

What about sharps containers in the park bathrooms, one woman asked.  They’re generally taken out as soon as they’re put in.

Could you require local restaurants to have locking dumpsters, so homeless people would have to find food somewhere else, one woman asked? City Administrator Londi Lindell considered the idea, then nodded and added to her notes.

What can we do about sex offenders, people wanted to know. Not much, was the answer. Only Level 2 and 3 sex offenders are required to check in periodically with law enforcement. Level 1 offenders, those considered least likely to re-offend, need only check in once a year. Toner encouraged residents to visit the Sheriff’s sex offender registry website if they had concerns, www.kingcounty.gov/safety/sheriff/SOSearch.aspx.

At the conclusion of the two-hour meeting, Mayor Ken Hearing assured the citizens that they had been heard. Toner encouraged anyone with more questions to contact him via e-mail. Staff contact information is on the city website, www.northbendwa.gov.

 

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