Kirkland puts community safety, police services on ballot

Resolution R-5324 will use a 0.1 percent sales tax increase to fund new community safety programs.

The Kirkland City Council recently approved a measure for the November general election that aims to enhance police services and community safety.

Resolution R-5324 will be on the ballot for Kirkland voters this fall and if it passes, would use a 0.1 percent sales tax increase to fund a police task force and resource officers, city mental health programs and annual funding for firearms training, storage and homeless shelters.

“Our citizens came forward wanting us to do something about gun violence in schools,” Kirkland Mayor Amy Walen said. “We had a march on City Hall by parents and an outpouring of requests saying, ‘…This is a safety issue and we want you to take action.’”

The breakdown

R-5324 will require a simple majority of 50 percent, plus one to pass and Walen said she expects residents to back up their outcry with votes.

The 0.1 percent sales tax increase is the maximum funding state law allows cities to levy in this way and Kirkland will begin funding several programs and services starting in 2019 if R-5324 is passed.

Motor vehicle purchases are excluded from the tax and the city must share 15 percent of the earning with King County. After these subtractions, the city estimates the increase will net $1.8 million annually, one-third of which must be dedicated to criminal justice or fire protection purposes under state law.

Based on the estimates, the city will dedicate $680,000 to a five-member police Pro-Act unit; $320,000 to four full-time school resource officers (SROs); $140,000 to a neighborhood resource officer; $120,000 to a full-time mental health professional; $350,000 to support mental health programs; $100,000 to firearm safety training and storage; and $100,000 to support women and family shelters.

“I think we have some voices who want to carry [R-5324] forward,” Walen said. “I think those people are going to be speaking wildly and advocating for this as something we can do.”

Walen added that there’s a feeling of helplessness among some local advocacy groups that organized requests for change. The groups were struggling to get action in state and national government, so they focused their efforts toward making a change locally.

Kirkland has hosted multiple town hall meetings, which were successful in determining what exactly the community wanted out of a public safety measure.

The programs

R-5324 will largely focus on increasing safety in schools and providing mental health resources for students and the general community.

Under R-5324, the city will split the cost of four full-time school resource officers at the middle school level with Lake Washington School District. They will serve at Finn Hill Middle School, Kamiakin Middle School, Kirkland Middle School and International Community School.

Walen emphasized that she and City Council didn’t want “just another school resource officer program” and looked at Redmond’s system of splitting the cost with LWSD to enhance Kirkland’s.

“There was this appetite for making our kids feel safer in schools,” Walen said. “I personally think [these investments] will make our parents feel safer about sending their kids to school because the type of mental health and SROs we’re talking about is something unique.”

Walen added that the new SRO program will receive special attention to ensures students and parents feel safe and are comfortable approaching the officers.

R-5324 will also provide a city-employed mental health professional to help resolve police and emergency medical calls involving individuals with mental health complications. The professional will support police and EMS when dealing with domestic violence, suicide attempts and assisting homeless individuals.

According to a press release, the city may contract the mental health position instead of hiring a new city employee.

The full-time neighborhood resource officer will focus on community policing and be involved with code enforcement and assisting with mental health emergency calls.

Additionally, the city will dedicate grant funding to expand services that focus on emotional health of children and teenagers, human services and after-school programs that provide suicide prevention, domestic violence prevention and drug addiction services.

The Pro-Act unit will focus on targeting specific crimes, from cleaning out a well-known drug-dealing home and preventing car prowls, to enforcing high-risk protection orders and gun forfeitures.

“The Pro-Act is something we’ve struggled to maintain over time,” Walen said. “It’s more of task force type model…We had a mail theft problem and that was solved by a Pro-Act unit, so those specific crimes you want to target, a Pro-Act unit is the way to go.”

The gun safety programs, funded by R-5324, will include firearm safety training and provide locals with a safe firearm-storage option through the city with subsidized trigger locks and gun safes.

Kirkland has been working towards hosting homeless shelters since 2008, when it entered an agreement with the cities of Redmond and Bellevue. The city is currently working to established a permanent women’s shelter and R-5324 will provide additional annual funding to support these efforts.

“With all of the region struggling with homelessness, I feel like Kirkland is leading the way and our people will be proud to vote to support that work here, because it’s important,” Walen said.

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