Burien has a unique approach to addressing critical issues in our community. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Burien is starting to see results from the investments and hard work of human services, police, and collaborating community organizations and agencies.
“When it comes to serving communities and responding to individuals in crisis, law enforcement agencies and human service systems each play a role in maintaining the safety and stability of our community,” said Colleen Brandt-Schluter, Human Services Manager. “Substance use, child welfare, intimate partner violence, suicide, juvenile justice, mass violence, homelessness, crimes of poverty—these are not only some of the most prominent societal challenges we face today, but also require involvement from both police and human services.”
Human services and police work together to address these major challenges. Their “leading with services” approach to addressing the root causes of criminal activity relies on partnerships, relationship-building, and a recognition that complex problems require solutions from many sectors and disciplines.
Starting with the hiring of Burien’s first human services manager and the selection of a new police chief in 2018, both departments began a partnership to help more people connect to the support and services they needed to avoid further interactions with the criminal justice system. Their efforts have focused on addressing homelessness and crimes of poverty, developing a shared services model, and enhancing services for youth, following the Council-adopted Framework for Strengthening Families.
“Our goal is to ensure that our approach is grounded in science, responsive to community needs, and is capable of achieving tangible and positive outcomes,” said Chief Ted Boe, Burien Police Department.
Reducing Homelessness through Harm Reduction
On May 6, 2019, the City of Burien announced a new approach to addressing unauthorized uses of Burien parks and facilities. To make everyone feel welcome and safe in Burien parks, City staff and Burien Police took a compassionate collaborative, and legal approach to preventing camping and encampments on public property that complies with the Martin v Boise decision.
“We believe two heads are better than one,” says Brandt-Schluter. “Creating internal partnerships between colleagues and departments and establishing bigger partnerships between agencies and systems, generates the kind of energy that fuels growth, innovation, and creativity. Value‐aligned partnerships that focus on common goals and complementary strengths are key to ensuring successful outcomes for all.”
A more robust approach grew from that early collaboration. Police and human services employ a harm reduction model for reducing homelessness in Burien. Their efforts focus on transforming the lives of adults living outside by providing street‐based case management and outreach services to adults.
This street-based case management team includes representatives from Burien Police Crime Reduction Unit, Burien Human Services, Evergreen Treatment Services REACH, Sound Health, YMCA Social Impact Center/Nexus, faith-based organizations, Catholic Community Services, and Salvation Army. Burien also partners with mobile public health services, Transform Burien, and Ideal Option to provide health, employment, food, shelter or housing, transportation, addiction treatment, and support accessing state and federal benefits.
In 2019, the Evergreen Treatment Services REACH program had 959 face-to-face contacts with 169 unique individuals. Catholic Community Services CReW had contact with 82 unique individuals, and Salvation Army had contact with 20 unique individuals and families living in vehicles, and successfully connected 14 to housing.
Burien also advocates at the sub-regional, county, state, and federal level for more resources and policies that address the multi-faceted issue of homelessness.
Addressing Root Causes of Crimes of Poverty
Our local law enforcement, human services, and prosecution work together to divert individuals engaged in low-level drug crime, prostitution, and crimes of poverty away from the criminal legal system and instead connect them with intensive case managers who can provide crisis response, immediate psychosocial assessment, and long‐term wraparound services including substance use disorder treatment and housing.
The following programs and agencies work together to help individuals bypass prosecution and jail time and instead get the help they need: Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), Co-LEAD, Burien Crime Reduction Officers, Public Defenders Office, King County Prosecutor’s Office, Burien Human Services, Burien Community Court, Navos, Trueblood, and South Correctional Facility (SCORE)’s medication-assisted treatment (MAT) re‐entry program.
“COVID-19 has made this work more difficult because keeping outreach, shelter staff, and our most vulnerable clients safe has been challenging,” says Brandt-Schluter. However, there are lessons the partners have learned through this pandemic. Early results from Co‐Lead, a version of the LEAD program which houses unsheltered people in hotel rooms, is showing that many people do better in actualizing their personal goals, such as sobriety or employment, when they can stay in a private room instead of congregate housing.
Even when an arrest is necessary, partners at SCORE’s MAT program have found success in helping individuals better access treatment services.
Burien Seeking Funding for Co-responder Pilot Program
Many local community members have asked for a different approach to crisis response. Communities across the country are beginning to adopt a promising co-responder model that improves how first responders engage with people experiencing behavioral health crises. Burien’s human services, police, fire, and emergency medical services departments and agencies have been exploring for the past year a shared or co-responder model that would pair behavioral health experts with law enforcement and emergency medical services to respond to calls for service. Currently, they are working with several agencies to seek funding to support a pilot program.
“This new model could help individuals better access the services they need, such as mental health or substance use disorder treatment,” said Brandt-Schluter.
“This model could result in the reduction of harm to the individual, fewer arrests, and lower use of jail and emergency departments,” said Boe.
Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy
There are youth in Burien that are at risk of a mental health crisis, contact with the juvenile justice system, involvement with gangs, and other challenges that prevent them from living up to their full potential. Human services and police work with multiple agencies to help intervene and support at-risk youth including SafeFutures Youth Center, LINC’s Alive and Free program, faith-based organizations, Choose 180, Point One North, CEDAR, and Community Passageways.
Boe serves as the co-chair for Leadership, Intervention and Change (LINC). LINC is an organization serving gang and criminal justice system-involved youth in Seattle and south King County, uniting partners to redirect gang-involved youth. The program is based on the comprehensive gang model, which is a proven system of improving outcomes for individuals and communities. LINC partners with Alive and Free and SafeFutures to provide street outreach and resource navigation, connecting youth, parents, teachers, and service providers to develop and help youth follow an intervention plan.
In 2019, Safe Futures delivered 452 hours of case management to 65 youth and provided a support system for young people at risk of academic failure and involvement with gangs or the juvenile justice system. In 2020, July through September, Alive and Free developed 98 client-focused intervention plans.
Police and human services are also working with the City’s recreation division to help serve youth not currently served by their programs.
Recognition for “Leading with Services” Approach Results in More Funding
This collaborative approach has been recognized by the King County Council, who just announced a new allocation of $2.2 million in their 2021-2022 budget, to support LEAD and Co-LEAD programs that serve Burien. The City is also seeking grants to fund more programs that serve youth and other vulnerable populations.
“King County has noticed the positive results of the ‘common ground’ approach we have here in Burien,’ said Boe. “We are actively working to find more resources and build more partnerships to address a wider spectrum of needs.”
Burien is seeking grants or other agency funding for a storefront officer and expanded youth services. Compared to other south King County cities, Burien pays the lowest costs per capita for police services, and has the lowest number of police personnel per capita.
View the presentation Boe and Brandt-Schluter gave to the Burien City Council during their December 7, 2020 meeting on this topic.