The city of Sultan held a community-wide block watch meeting last week in response to growing concerns from residents over the rising number of burglaries, car prowls and illegal drug activity.
The meeting, which was held at Sultan City Hall on Wednesday, May 28, was facilitated by Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick and Sultan Police Chief Monte Beaton.
Between 30 and 40 Sultan and Gold Bar residents attended the nearly two-hour meeting, coordinated largely by Sultan resident Joseph Stone of Stone Security Services, along with his wife, Elizabeth. The couple, who recently had their son’s bike stolen from inside their carport, have been actively working to coordinate several different neighborhood block watch organizations in hopes of creating a centralized point of contact.
Stone, a retired military security specialist, started his security consulting company in April in response to growing number of burglaries in the area. Before turning the meeting over to Mayor Eslick and Chief Beaton, he introduced himself and addressed the meeting attendees.
“We wanted to reorganize and get a better system in place,” said Stone. “Not just for individual neighborhoods but the city as a whole.”
Mayor Eslick and Chief Beaton gave brief presentations and then listened to residents voice concerns about the schools, the lack of officers patrolling city streets on a regular basis, illegal drug activity and much more. Several residents voiced concerns about the cluster of youth that typically lounge in front of City Hall and the library.
The reoccurring theme of the meeting was relatively simple: Sultan needs additional law enforcement officers to establish a more visible presence in the city.
“I think we need to re-look at the level of service that we have here,” said Sultan resident Scott Zaffram. “Block watch is great but I think it’s a band-aid.”
Zaffram, who has lived in Sultan since 1997, said that he cannot recall such rampant levels of theft, burglary and vandalism.
“This is the highest level of crime that I’ve seen,” said Zaffram. “And people have lost faith that community services are going to be able to reach them.”
Zaffram stated that he feels that a disparity exists between the salaries of some Sultan city staff members and the level of law enforcement services in the community. He questioned how the city can afford to pay what he considers to be very high salary rates, yet be unable to afford adequate police services.
He addressed Chief Beaton.
“I have a lot of respect for the work that you do, and it’s not easy,” said Zaffram. “I know you guys have seen some ugly stuff. I just feel that the level of service we currently have is not adequate. That’s my only point.”
The city of Sultan, which transitioned from having an independent police force, now contracts with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office for their law enforcement services. Per the contract, the city pays for services including patrol and investigations that are to be provided by a total of four officers. Essentially, the contract guarantees them one Sultan-designated patrol deputy on duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
They also pay for a chief of police, in addition to the four officers, to be both a supervisor to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office employees as well as the liaison between the sheriff’s department and the city.
“For the amount of police that we have… They’re doing the best they can do,” said Mayor Eslick. “Do we need more? Yes, we need more. How do we get more? We have to find the funds to do that.”
She explained that one of the benefits of becoming a contract city with the sheriff’s department was the fact that, per the contract, the sheriff’s office agreed to relocate their east precinct facilities from Monroe to Sultan. This means that, in addition to the on-duty deputy designated to the city of Sultan, there are frequently other deputies on hand who can be utilized as backup when necessary.
“You will see that when there’s a violent crime or a domestic there’s two and sometimes three officers there,” said Eslick.
Despite the fact that backup is available, residents want more officers designated specifically to the city of Sultan. Several residents described negative encounters they’ve experienced with the “troubled youth” of the community who typically spend time in front of City Hall as well as in the local parks.
Retired Army Sgt. Bob Klement, who has lived in Sultan for two years, recalled a confrontation he had with a few younger members of the community which nearly ended in violence. The incident occurred at Sultan’s River Park, located at the west end of Main Street.
“I was almost involved in a shooting down there,” said Klement.
He’d been fishing when he noticed some kids throwing rocks at a mother goose and her goslings. The kids ended up killing two of the goslings and were continuing to throw rocks at the mother goose, splashing her with water. He confronted them and informed them that what they were doing was against the law. He was then approached by seven of them, who backed him up against a hillside and attempted to corner him. A member of the group became verbally abusive and started to threaten him with physical violence.
Klement explained that, at that point, he calmly raised his hand to his hip, and told the group to simply walk away. The vocal member of the group continued to sling verbal abuse, sarcastically questioning Klement, “What are you going to do, shoot me?”
Klement suggested to the individual in question that he didn’t want to find out, and eventually, the group moved on.
“Twice now, I’ve had run-ins with two of those kids,” said Klement.
Also concerned about the youth in the community is Sultan School District Para-educator Eli Dimsha who explained that the teenagers who cluster in front of City Hall seem to harbor a sense of entitlement as though no one, not even local law enforcement, can tell them what to do.
“They really do think they run the town,” said Dimsha. “And those kids know what officers are on (duty); what officers are out of town; what officers aren’t there… They know.”
Dimsha has worked for the school district for nearly 10 years and is very familiar with the youth of the community.
“My daughter checks out nine books every week and reads every one of them. She’s 14 years old,” said Dimsha. “She’s terrified to walk to the library by herself. I drive her down here, I drop her off, and I sit and wait until she’s inside the building.”
Dimsha asked if there was a plan in place to increase law enforcement visibility, particularly due to the fact that school will be out in less than two weeks which means that the traffic around City Hall will likely increase.
Gold Bar resident John Sears agreed with the consensus that Sultan needs additional law enforcement officers.
“I agree with Scott; I think more officers is probably the best answer,” said Sears. “What does it take to get more people? I think that’s the real question. How do we get that money?”
Sears also suggested that somebody take a look at the number of officers in cities that have a population similar to that of Sultan’s. Preliminary research does reflect, numerically, that other cities with populations similar to Sultan do employ more law enforcement officers. Colville, which has a slightly higher population than Sultan, has eight officers including the chief, as well as two reserve officers. Black Diamond, which has a lower population than Sultan, has eight officers including the chief, plus three reserve officers.
Further research is needed to determine how many officers are on-duty for any given shift in these other communities.
Also relevant is the fact that independent police stations must compensate for officers’ vacation time as well as sick leave. One of the benefits to contracting with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department is the fact that the city contracts are priority to the department, and any time an officer is injured or on vacation, a replacement is brought in through the department to cover the absent officer.
In addition to discussion about the drug activity and troubled teens in the community, the burglary issue was discussed, as well. Longtime Sultan block watch member Susie Hollenbeck reflected on a few of the basics, like the importance of calling 911 in the event of anything suspicious or troublesome, as well as how important it is that folks track all items of value by recording serial numbers.
Chief Beaton confirmed that serial number information is absolutely necessary when reporting stolen property because, if officers are directed to a residence to examine property suspected of being stolen, and they run the serial numbers only to have them come up as “clean,” there is little else that they can do.
“Not only can we not arrest them, but we can’t even remove the property that we know is very likely stolen property,” said Beaton.
Beaton recalled a case where stolen tool had been recovered because the owner had marked them all with a unique type of paint. He also recommended engraving.
Mayor Eslick and Chief Beaton strongly promoted the idea that residents should seek to join forces with their neighbors to proactively work together to prevent becoming a victim. Block parties or outdoor neighborhood barbecues were suggested. Both the mayor and the chief stated that they were willing to attend future neighborhood block watch meetings.
“I don’t mind coming out to them because it’s important,” said Beaton. “It’s important that people know that we’re on your side.”
In addition to setting up a follow-up city-wide block watch meeting at 7 p.m. on June 25 at City Hall, the mayor stated that she would begin discussion with city council on how to obtain the funding necessary to acquire additional law enforcement officers specifically designated to patrol in the city of Sultan. In the meantime, she and Chief Beaton advised residents to remain vigilant and to call 911 at the first sight of anything out-of-place, and to continue reaching out and developing relationships with neighbors.
“The community isn’t just a bunch of houses with people living in them,” said Beaton. “The community is the connections that you make between the people who live in those houses.”
Long-time Sultan resident Jeremy Bell has become an advocate for neighborhood watch and other corrective measures strategized to eliminate the drug-addicted and transient population of recent years. Bell appreciated the block watch meeting and the fact that citizens and officials are interested in addressing the issues, but hopes for a more solution-oriented meeting next time.
“I am glad to see good citizens in this town taking some civic pride,” said Bell. “I want this town back to how it used to be and not have to send our kids everywhere in pairs, or take them to the library for fear of harassment from the few people who are causing this trouble.”
Bell, who has lived in Sultan for 16 years, wants his children to be safe, as well as his girlfriend’s children, who are currently enrolled in the Sultan School District.
“I would really like to see the meetings focused more,” said Bell. “On getting actual answers and possible solutions to these concerns we have.”
For more information on Sultan’s block watch program, contact Donna Murphy at Sultan City Hall at (360) 793-2231. For additional information on both city-wide as well as neighborhood block watch meetings, please check the Stone Security Services Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/stonesecsvc?ref=br_tf. Stone has organized an additional block watch meeting which will take place at the Sultan gazebo at Second and Main Streets at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 7.