Mountlake Terrace will join the Public Safety Coalition of Snohomish County Mayors

Mountlake Terrace Police Chief Pete Caw addresses members of City Council on Thursday evening about the need for public safety reforms in the upcoming legislative session.

Mountlake Terrace City Council agreed at its work/study session on Thursday November 17 to join a newly formed coalition of mayors and business leaders who said they were committed to addressing current concerns community regarding public safety in Snohomish County.

The group – Mayors and Business Leaders for Public Safety – is a non-profit organization. Organizers said it was created in response to increased incidents of property and violent crime in Snohomish County, and to address mental health and homelessness issues that are key drivers of the increase.

The coalition, which was announced on October 4, says it has 15 members. It originally did not include Mountlake Terrace, although the mayors of the neighboring towns of Brier, Edmonds and Lynnwood had signed on. Although the city has yet to officially join the coalition, Mountlake Terrace Mayor Kyoko Matsumo Wright signed a letter – sent to Snohomish County lawmakers on November 15 – outlining the group’s priorities, including:

– Legislation relating to the Blake decision, which decriminalized almost all drug possession in Washington State.

– Criminal justice policies that will enable officers to more effectively use their training, experience and judgment in the field.

– Increased funding for law enforcement and social services.

The council talked about joining the coalition during its October 13 work/study session, but some council members said they wanted more information about the group before deciding to participate – and set a date for the November 17 for further discussion.

On Thursday evening, council members reached a consensus to participate.

“I think it’s important that we as a city join the coalition and support community safety,” Mountlake Terrace City Council member Rick Ryan said, adding that the city needs to “work together as a team to support Snohomish County to help some of the issues we are tackling right now as many have been reported to our own police department.

Council member Erin Murray asked Mountlake Terrace Police Chief Pete Caw if he could elaborate on how the effort will specifically help the city’s police department. Caw responded that the coalition was focused on two laws passed by the state legislature that “created more problems than they solved.”

The first was the Legislature’s response to the Washington State Supreme Court’s Blake decision, which decriminalized almost all drug possession in the state. The Legislature passed a law making drug possession a misdemeanor, but there is a two-year sunset on the law unless lawmakers take further action.

The second was a law that determines when police can engage in a vehicle pursuit of a suspect.

“In our minds, this (the vehicle chases) is a command decision that should come from the chief of police, not the legislature and that made it very complicated,” Caw said. Mountlake Terrace has a “very conservative” prosecution policy, he added.

Each city participating in the coalition pays a fee — for Mountlake Terrace, it’s $3,750 — which covers the cost of a consultant to guide the effort.

— By Teresa Wippel