King County Councilman Reagan Dunn, as part of his ongoing battle against methamphetamine and other drugs, unveiled an ordinance last Thursday that would provide another tool for law enforcement and homeowners to work together to combat crime in neighborhoods.
Dunn’s proposed Safer Neighborhoods ordinance, which has the support of Sheriff Sue Rahr and the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound, would provide a new way to combat drugs and violent crime in unincorporated areas.
He announced the legislation at a press conference where he introduced Tom and Florence Pruitt, a couple who live in unincorporated King County near Renton, who spent 13 months accumulating evidence and documenting issues with neighbors who were running a meth lab out of the rental home.
“There were times when I was on the sofa with binoculars shaking so hard I could hardly take down the license plate numbers,” Florence Pruitt said. “But they moved across the street from the wrong family.”
Deputies responded to numerous incidents at that rental property over a 13-month period, but neighbors were unable to convince the landlord to evict tenants suspected of using and dealing meth.
Officers visited the property 37 times while neighbors like the Pruitts were taking down license plate numbers for more than 240 cars that would come and go. This kind of activity is typically a neon sign for drug activity, according to authorities.
With the help of the information gathered by neighbors, detectives later made drug arrests and confiscated guns from the property.
In an effort to prevent similar situations happening elsewhere, Dunn has proposed legislation that would allow deputies to identify problem houses in unincorporated King County, then notify the landlord when a crime is committed on the property, ranging from class A and B felonies, as well as drug and sex offenses and providing alcohol to minors.
Landlords would be expected to take action to deal with what’s going on at their rental properties after being issued letters warning them of crimes committed there, as well as providing steps they can take to remedy the problem.
“In a perfect world, owners would always know about crime taking place on their property, but that isn’t always the case,” said Dunn. “This legislation will go a long way towards strengthening cooperation between property owners, tenants, and the county to ensure safer neighborhoods for law-abiding citizens.”
Following three notices of crime on rental properties, owners would be required to take reasonable action or face civil penalties, with options such as taking landlord training courses, guidance from deputies or assistance in the eviction process.
“Community policing emphasizes partnerships between the police and anyone who has a stake in quality of life issues and safe neighborhoods,” Rahr said, adding that Dunn’s proposal “is a perfect way for the owners of rental property and the sheriff’s office to work together for the betterment of tenants and owners.”
Maj. Dave Germani, commander of the Sheriff Department’s Precinct 3 in Maple Valley, which patrols the neighborhood the Pruitts live in, said the ordinance, if passed by the County Council, will provide deputies and residents “a little bit of a hammer.”
“It will put (landlords) on notice,” Germani said. “It will educate them on their rights as rental homeowners. It gives them some recourse. This offers them ways to deal with their problems.”
Germani said landlords often just don’t know how to handle tenants who break the law on their properties.
“Anything that allows us to be proactive, I’m for it,” he said. “Anything that will help us to work with the good people.”
Last week’s announcement comes on the heels of a call for cuts by County Executive Ron Sims to cope with a $68 million budget shortfall in 2009, including significant cuts to the Sheriff Department.
Germani has already lost 21 full-time equivalent employees from his precinct, which covers 740 square miles from Sammamish to the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation.
The manpower reduction came when Renton annexed Benson Hill and Auburn annexed Lea Hill into their city limits. Now the precinct’s been asked to make recommendations on cutting all but the most essential services and personnel.
On the one hand, Germani said, Dunn’s proposed ordinance is a positive step in proactive law enforcement. But given the reductions his precinct and the entire Sheriff Departemnt faces in the near future, he’s not sure how it’s going to get done.
“They trimmed what they thought was any fat the last time they went through this exercise,” Germani said. “There’s no more fat to cut. Additional cuts hit flesh and bone. I know that for a fact, because I’ve been running Precinct 3 for six years.”
The cuts also worry Dunn, who has been focused on crime prevention as a councilman and has spent months crafting the Safer Neighborhoods ordinance with the assistance of the Sheriff Department.
“I am very concerned about the potential cuts to our Sheriff Department, our (prosecuting attorney’s) office and the (District and Superior) courts,” Dunn said. “Public safety will always be my number-one priority, and I will be looking to minimize any cuts due to the current budget crisis. I have serious concerns about the state of the King County general fund.
“If reports of a $68 million budget deficit are to be believed, that would mean we need a 10 percent increase in revenue to fund existing programs. That is outrageous and will be the focus of my deliberations on the budget this fall.”
Staff writer Kris Hill can be reached at (425) 432-1209 (extension 5054) and email@example.com