Beat patrols in Downtown

Notes from Officer Jeremiah SmiTh

Our November Safety and Security meeting featured Officer Jeremiah Smith of the Bellingham Police Dept. A big thank you to Backcountry Essentials for the use of the upstairs room again! Ofc. Smith touched on a variety of subjects regarding police patrols in the Downtown area,mostly focusing on his role as the foot beat officer, the roles of the bicycle patrol officers and he talked about the supplemental foot patrols that occurred during the months of September and October. He was also able to answer several questions regarding when to call 911 and what happens when the call goes into the 911 center, versus calling a non-emergency number.

WHY WAS THE CITY CENTER FOOT BEAT IMPLEMENTED?

To generate positive interactions with our police agency members and community members while providing a service. This detail exists to show the City Center businesses that the police are partners in the community and listen to their concerns about transients barring entry to the property, about quality of life issues in the City Center and they are real people that can hold conversations, smile and interact.

This holds the same for transient individuals or folks officers contact regarding criminal violations during the course of police duties. The Bellingham Police agency treats people with dignity and respect and this foot beat serves to remind folks of that.  People see the officers interacting with the less-fortunate, providing them fliers on local services, reminding them about the sitting and lying ordinance and not just expecting a problem as complex as homelessness to go away.

FOOT BEAT PATROLS

The role of the foot beat officer is an important one in the CBD (Central Business District). The density of the downtown area and the small footprint of the area creates a compact environment that is not served as well by normal “area car” patrols. Being on foot or bicycles, allow the officers to be more approachable and more aware of people and situations.

There is also a greater opportunity for officers to go into businesses and speak with the owners, employees and managers. You may have had Ofc. Smith come into your business and say hello. This type of contact can help create a greater sense of community and a better working relationship between the businesses and local government.

Ofc. Smith is on duty downtown from 10:20AM-6:20PM, Monday through Friday. The first half of the work day, Officer Smith is typically walking around in the CBD. The second half of the day, he is assigned as the Transit Officer, at the Whatcom Transportation Authority downtown terminal. He works out of the office there at WTA, 205 E Magnolia, and walks the concourse, and occasionally will ride the bus routes. Since he is still downtown, he will respond to calls for service in the CBD, as he is usually close.

The Foot Beat officer focuses on crime, but more importantly he focuses on the “nuisance”issues.

- Drinking in public

- Urinating in public

- Bicycling on the sidewalk

- Skateboarding anywhere in the CBD

- Sleeping in private property

- Mental health issues

- Disorderly subjects

- Sitting/lying on the sidewalk

- Aggressive panhandling

These are issues that cause your employees and patrons to not feel secure or comfortable at you place of business.

BICYCLE PATROLS

At this time, the bicycle officers are working in pairs in the CBD. One team works Mon-Fri from12:00PM-10:00PM. The other team works Tues-Sat 12:00PM-10:00PM. There is no Sunday coverage. This schedule will change in January when the new shifts start for the Police Department. The Bicycle patrols will return to the 7-day format for downtown coverage. The hours for bicycle patrols at that time will be from 10:20AM-9:00PM.

The Bicycle Patrol officers focus on the similar nuisance issues that the Foot Beat officer does, but they have a greater range for patrolling. Besides the downtown streets, sidewalks and alleys, they also patrol the parks and interurban trails near the CBD.

And as they work in pairs, they are able to conduct more high risk contacts for drug related issues and seeking out and contacting wanted subjects on warrant status.

SUPPLEMENTAL FOOT BEAT PATROLS

During the months of September and October of this year, the police department tried a new program to assist the CBD businesses with the issue of people sleeping on the sidewalks and in doorways. Monday through Friday, from 7:00 AM to 10:00 AM, two officers paired with the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) through the Opportunity Council. The officers would walk the CBD and contact persons sleeping in doorways or on the sidewalks in front of the businesses.

This effort was met with a lot of positive feedback from the downtown community. Police were able to work with HOT to wake and offer services to those sleeping in doorways resulting in a drastic reduction of possible confrontations with business staff by the end of the 8 week program.

The Downtown Bellingham Partnership circulated a survey on their Facebook page. Businesses are asked to fill out this survey regarding any positive, negative or negligible effects on your business in regards to the supplemental efforts.

WHEN TO CALL 911

If there is a situation in your business or in front of your building that you believe an officer should be summoned, or should know about, please call 911. 911 is a resource we all pay for and this is the most effective method for how the police are able to get information on where to respond and how quickly they need to respond.

OTHER BENEFITS TO CALLING 911

• 911 is staffed 24/7

When you call the 911 call center, you will get an immediate response to your phone call. The information will be taken and depending on the severity of the issue and other calls for service, an officer will be dispatched in a prioritized manner.

There are after-hour and daytime non-emergency numbers you can call to make a report. These numbers will typically go to a voicemail system, and you may not get a return call for up to 48 hours. Any time the issue you are calling about is in progress or there is suspect information, please call 911.

• 911 call-receivers can direct you to other services.

if the issue you are calling about is not a police matter, but can be handled by another Government agency or Non-Government agency, they can usually transfer your call, or give you the phone number.

• Crime statistics for the area

Crime statistics are generated by the calls to 911. They give the Police Dept. a“snapshot” of the area: where the greatest needs for patrols are, what the priorities of the area are, actual crime levels vs. perceptions of crime levels, staffing demands for the area for specific times of the day or night. The more information that is gathered, the greater ability the police have to respond appropriately to your needs.

OTHER DOWNTOWN ISSUES

Ofc. Smith also shared information that the RAINBOW CENTER is currently looking for a new cation in a light industrial area. They have a task-force that is looking at viable options. Also, the Lighthouse Mission’s Drop-in Center, went live 24/7 on October 17th. This center opened 42 more beds, in a low-barrier model, that is behavioral based for attendance. Their main shelter is a high-barrier shelter that does not allow for anyone exhibiting signs of alcohol or other drug use, or anyone who has a service animal or pet.

They have had some good success with this model so far, and are able to provide for more overnight accommodations, which has also helped keep people off the sidewalks at night.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO CONTACT OFC SMITH DIRECTLY

If there is a situation where a 911 call is not necessary, but you would like to talk with Ofc. SMITH about it, below are ways to reach out to him.

You can contact Ofc. Smith through his Department email at JDSMITH@cob.org or you can leave message on his department voicemail at 360-778-8760.