By Jeff Wagner, Mayor of Covington
As your mayor, and a resident, I am painfully aware of our public safety challenges. As crime has risen regionally, Covington has not been immune to crime and its impacts. It is heartbreaking each time I hear about a crime being committed in Covington and it is even more heartbreaking that we have so many roadblocks in the way to adequately address it.
Let me be clear – it IS the city’s job to preserve the safety of the community and it is one of our top priorities. Your city council has formed a public safety subcommittee to explore best options for finding sustainable funding for public safety and for the feasibility in remaining a King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) contract city or having an in-house department of our own.
Funding is not where our only challenges lie. We are also being greatly impacted by the following:
• Lack of County prosecution, a substantial amount of the felony cases Covington forwards to the King County Prosecutor are declined
• Officer/staffing shortages, KCSO has a 20-25% officer shortage
• State laws tying our officer’s hands in certain areas like use of force and drug possession
• Lack of mental health, addiction, and homeless services
• Programs being cut like KCSO’s pro-active unit
Even with these challenges, we’ve been rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on ways to supplement public safety and complimentary services:
• We’ve created two new city positions – a Clean Team Employee who will do fieldwork and outreach to improve the aesthetic of “downtown” Covington and a Community Care Navigator position to assist with mental health and human services.
• In February, several of our employees and police officers were trained and certified in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) that we will begin to incorporate into community development.
• We have provided theft emphasis patrols in retail areas of Covington, although somewhat limited currently with staffing shortages and hosted a mail theft open house to address prevention.
•Over the past several years, we have increased our police funding by almost $2 million for a total of over $4.9 million per year (or 35% of our general fund), but it still isn’t enough.
As a City Council, we will continue to be open-minded and look for ways to improve our community and keep it safe. These are some small things we are implementing on our own, but the bigger picture issues remain and need to be resolved. We are not going to ignore these issues.
In the meantime, we are happy to note that we have a new officer starting in Covington next week which will bring us up to having 15 of our 17 positions filled. KCSO has also increased their recruiting efforts, and we hope to get the remaining two positions filled as soon as possible.