Community Explores What Public Safety Could Look Like in Burien

Children playing in park.

In response to national and local calls for a re-examination of policing and city budgets, the Burien City Council called a special meeting in September 2020 to discuss public safety with the Burien community. More than 50 people attended the virtual meeting and 141 responded to a survey that was deployed soon after the meeting. There were some common themes that emerged in this latest community conversation. You can read the full report on the City of Burien website.

  • Improved community conditions: Many asked to expand our definition of public safety to include a society that ensures people’s basic needs were met. This includes investing in health care and behavioral health services, housing and shelter, food security, education, youth and family support programs, jobs and economic opportunity, and investments into the community and local organizations that serve Burien residents. A small of number of respondents also asked for support for substance abuse harm reduction programs, such as safe injection sites. Some called for defunding, or re-allocating funding, from police to human services and other community resources.
  • Safety: People wanted to not only be safe from physical harm, but to also feel safe, and asked Burien leaders to prioritize safety.   
  • Police support: There were many who called for sustained or increased funding for police. Also, many people called for better response times from the police, asking police to take reports of crime seriously, and asking for more visible police patrols and presence in the community.
  • Public trust: Many felt that building connections between neighbors as well as mutual aid networks was an important component of public safety. There were many that called for government and elected officials to be responsive to the needs of the community, with a specific ask for them to listen to all voices, including those of youth and from the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community. Some responses called for elected officials to tailor policy changes to Burien’s unique needs and not copy policies from other jurisdictions. There were some calls for increased transparency, communications, and community outreach. Others called for the government to operate more efficiently, spending less money. Some noted that there are issues that spread beyond jurisdictional boundaries and asked for more advocacy for Burien at the county, state, and federal level.
  • Alternative criminal justice and first responder models: Some people called for a different emergency response system that would replace an armed response to situations that could potentially be addressed by a mental health or social worker. Some called for more investments in collaborative, proactive crime and violence prevention programs such as Burien’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program and Burien Community Court.
  • Address visible issues: Many wanted the police or city government to address issues they found undesirable and that were visible in the community. This included addressing visible drug use, removing homeless “encampments”, addressing gang activity, and addressing safety issues at the Burien Library. While many stated they wanted to address visible issues in the community, there were different solutions offered. For example, some asked for loitering laws to be enforced, while many called for people’s basic needs to be met.
  • Investment in training and accountability for police services: Some called for police to go through anti-racism and de-escalation training. There were also calls for better police accountability, from the hiring process to addressing what happens if an officer is involved in an incident that harms a community member.
  • Support for first responders: There was a call for fire, emergency medical services, and disaster response to have adequate funding. Some also stated that they wanted to ensure these agencies can deliver adequate response times, and that the service meets community demand.
  • Investments in infrastructure and public spaces: Some called for investments in infrastructure that supported traffic, walking, and biking safety, including crosswalks, speed bumps, and sidewalks. Some called for more investments into crime prevention through environmental design features, like better street lighting. Others called for more investment in and maintenance of Burien’s public spaces, including parks. Concerns were expressed about garbage, discarded drug paraphernalia, graffiti, and other issues that made the public spaces less welcoming for residents to enjoy.
  • Stricter criminal justice system: There were some that called for stricter prosecution of crimes.
  • Focus on property and non-violent crime: Addressing property crime was considered very important by some.
  • Equity: Respondents stated that they would like to ensure that people are treated fairly and don’t experience discrimination, especially from their police force. Some expressed concern about over-policing in BIPOC communities and fairness in prosecution.

What’s next?

The King County Council and King County Sheriff’s Office are in the middle of a complex process to re-organize and respond to the voter-approved King County Charter Amendments.

These amendments make the office of sheriff a position subject to appointment by the King County Executive and confirmed by the King County Council, create new requirements for when inquests must be performed, give the Office of Law Enforcement and Oversight (OLEO) subpoena power, and give King County Council the authority to establish the Department of Public Safety, which enables them to explore more community-based public safety alternatives.

The Washington State Legislature and the new federal administration are also tackling police reform. We are monitoring the county, state, and federal legislative processes and working with our legislators to ensure Burien’s needs are heard.

City staff are planning another round of community engagement, with an emphasis on making it easier for people who have not traditionally participated in these types of conversations to join in.

Would you like to stay informed of future opportunities to participate? Email communications@burienwa.gov to be added to an email notification list.

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