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Signing off: North Bend sheriff’s substation closes shop for Snoqualmie police transition March 7
Moving day hasn’t quite arrived at the North Bend Sheriff’s substation, but the signs show that it is coming. Colored slips of paper marked “city” or “KCSO” are taped to tables and desks, and one corner of the front office is stacked with stuffed boxes, marked “Star Wars” or “Bath Sets” (leftovers from the department’s annual Operation Santa gift drive). The staff photos in the lobby aren’t coming down just yet, though, and more of the walls are being covered as Office Manager Kym Smith continues building her history display of the department’s 40 years as North Bend’s police force.
That’s right, 40 years, Smith says, pointing to the Dec. 27, 1973, issue of the Valley Record, with a photo of Mayor Oscar Miller signing the agreement to contract with the King County Sheriff’s Office for police services. The relationship built on that contract ends at midnight, March 7, when the Snoqualmie Police Department begins covering North Bend.
Well, the formal relationship ends, but both Smith and Police Chief Mark Toner can foresee staying in touch with the community they’ve served for years. Smith and administrative assistant Erin Mitchell both live in North Bend and hope to continue working in the community. Sgt. Toner leaves after four and a-half years as the city’s police chief for a patrol position south of I-90.
“But my e-mail and phone number are all the same, so people can still get hold of me,” he says, and many of the 10 North Bend deputies will still be around, patrolling C-1, the unincorporated areas of King County surrounding North Bend.
“We’re only losing one position, that’s me,” Toner said. The department currently has two cars, patrolling D-1 in the city, and C-1 in unincorporated areas at all times. Both cars will remain in C-1 after Snoqualmie takes over. It’s a large area, Toner explained, and “we rely on our own,” so when a deputy calls for backup after March 7, it would have to come from one of the deputies patrolling east King County, from Carnation, or from the Sammamish substation. “So, instead of having to wait for somebody to come from a long ways away, we’ll just take the car that was in the city, and bounce ‘em out,” Toner said.
Some of the changes are happening “behind the scenes,” like the hand-off of 911 dispatch services now being coordinated. It should be smooth, and the public shouldn’t notice a difference, Toner said. What they will notice, though, is the loss of the substation.
“This place is a hub of the community,” Toner said, attributing that primarily to Smith’s and Mitchell’s work with citizens. “How many calls do we get about ‘how do I do this?’” People came to the substation to register their bicycles, apply for concealed weapons permits, get information on how to improve their home security, get rid of expired or unwanted medicines, and get help from one of the assistance organizations that collaborated with the department — or sometimes the department itself.
There’s Operation Santa, which both Smith and Toner agree was “huge.” Smith is an admitted mother hen — “I’ve always been around law enforcement. I think it’s just vital to be that mother… make sure all my little chicks are all taken care of!” she says — and extremely proud of the department’s holiday support program.
“Operation Santa started (in 1993) when an officer went into a residence after a call and realized that this family didn’t have a tree, they didn’t have anything,” she said.
Then police chief Dave Germani had been involved with a similar program in a previous position, and thought it would be good for North Bend, Smith said. So when officers found families in need at the holidays, they reported the details back to the office, where Smith worked part time. With the number of children, their ages and genders, Smith and office manager Judy Lawler would go out and buy the family gifts, “…then that officer would turn around and take back the toys,” she said.
With the support of the community, the program grew quickly. Smith said many people wanted to do more than just buy toys. “We had lots of people come in and say, I don’t want to just donate, I want to adopt a family…. or I want to help with the needs, tell me what they need, not just want.”
One year, she said, they helped get the heat working in a Fall City family’s trailer, and for many years they provided sleeping bags for children who didn’t have any other bedding.
By the time the program ended, after the 2009 holidays, Smith said they had helped 344 families, 763 children and 364 adults. In early 2010, the department began meeting with the organizations on how to work together in providing services, a meeting that eventually led to the OneVoice collaboration.
The department has also sponsored Safe and Sober Summers teen dances (1998-2000), free bicycle registration and bicycle safety programs since 1998, a bicycle rodeo from 2006 to 2009, Pizza with a Cop from 2003 to 2009, and offers free gun locks. People can get help from the Salvation Army there, use the department’s fingerprinting services and meet with an advocate for domestic violence victims.
“This is what I’m talking about with the office,” Toner said. “They’re the conduit… People are reaching out, looking for a place to help,” and Smith and Mitchell help close that loop.
Those connections are at the heart of law enforcement in North Bend, Toner says, and the main thing that Snoqualmie officers will have to develop when they start here.
“My hope is that Snoqualmie rolls into town and is bored,” he said, meaning “we left a clean house, they don’t have to worry about a remodel right away, and they’ll have the time to build those relationships.”
Community-based law enforcement is what North Bend needs, on all issues, not just the hot topics of illegal drugs and the city’s homeless population. Those are two different issues, by the way, Toner says.
“Homelessness is still an issue,” he said, and there is some overlap with drug-users, but they aren’t the same. “Homelessness has been an issue, since, ever. It’s always there,” Toner said. As for the other H-word, heroin, he says the Seattle area has a 150-year history with the drug, which rises to prominence every 10 years or so, declining in use as law enforcement attacks it, then increasing when they focus their attention on whatever drug supplants it, such as prescription drugs, most recently.
“Heroin is the fallback drug,” Toner said, adding “People are going to say I’m naive, but I don’t see North Bend as any more significant, or any better, than almost any other city I’ve worked in.”
He is frustrated by accusations that North Bend is a “heroin hamlet,” and says the citizens should play a role in ending that image. Referring to an e-mail message he received, asking him for a report of his day-to-day actions in attacking heroin, he said, “My response is what are you doing about it? How many times have you called it in? … What have you done to make your home more environmentally safe, or your town more environmentally safe?”
It’s not defensiveness, he says, because “In reality, the onus is on the community to make the place safe. We’re simply one of the tools to get there.”
The switch to Snoqualmie, he predicts, will be fine, although citizens will have to travel a little further for some of the services they used to get at the Boalch Avenue substation. Concealed weapons permits applications, available since 1974, are no longer offered at the substation, as of Feb. 20, and the prescription drug drop box closes Wednesday, Feb. 26.
“We collected more than 300 pounds with that,” Smith says, recalling some of the people who used it to make their homes a little safer. “People are still using it, and it’s not just for people,” she said. “We’re also getting pet medications, over-the-counter medications…”
“That was the community coming to us, too,” Toner said of the drop box. The Snoqualmie Valley Community Network approached the department in 2010, asking for help in preventing prescription drug abuse. “They explained the need and in less than two months, we had the box,” Toner said.
Snoqualmie’s Police Department also has a drug drop box in the station at 34825 SE Douglas St., and there’s one at the Sammamish City Hall substation.
North Bend’s substation, 1550 Boalch Ave. N.W., officially closes Thursday, following an open house event from 3 to 5 p.m. Many current and former deputies will be there, and the public is invited to come say goodbye.
Office Manager Kym Smith, in mock anger, gently corrects someone on how long KCSO has been serving North Bend (it’s 40 years).
An information display at the station, already marked for moving. Notes that read "City" mark items to stay. "KCSO" means sheriff property.
Press clippings from the department's 40 years lined the walls for the reception Thursday, closing day.
Familiar faces at the North Bend Sheriff’s substation, from left, Administrative Assistant Erin Mitchell, Office Manager Kym Smith and Police Chief Mark Toner. Each will move on to other duties after helping to close down the substation, but many of the deputies could remain in the area, since North Bend’s C-1 area will soon have two cars on patrol.