It was an overflow audience at the North Bend Public Safety meeting last night, May 16, 2013, leaving Police Chief Toner commenting that the crowd was the largest he’d seen at a community meeting in years. Residents are on edge following Monday’s home invasion that left an intruder stabbed to death by the homeowner.
Community members had many questions about crime and its perceived increase in the North Bend area. Chief Toner and city officials spent two hours addressing these community concerns and making sure audience members knew that major North Bend crimes in recent years were perpetrated by residents, neighbors – not transients.
Illegal drug use was also a topic addressed. An email circulated the community this week warning parents that used, hypodermic needles were found at North Bend’s Torguson Park and encouraged parents to inspect park bathrooms before sending children in.
During public testimony, it was brought up that needles were also found on the North Bend Elementary School (NBE) playground, as the school is adjacent to Torguson Park. Principal Jim Frazier said, though, said that no needles have been found at NBE this year, but staff members do check the grounds each morning before student arrive.
North Bend City Administrator, Londi Lindell, confirmed that city maintenance crews have been finding used needles in public restrooms and in open spaces where known drug users have constructed camps in the past.
Additionally, Chief Toner confirmed that police have seen a recent rise in drug use, but could not attribute what specifically caused the increase. He reminded the audience that drug use occurs in communities everywhere, that North Bend is not unique. The drug of choice constantly changes and North Bend police are now seeing more heroin use compared to meth use in the past.
One meeting attendee said she no longer uses city parks because of the needle issue, which drew a strong response from administrator, Lindell, saying that the city is going to do something about the problem.
Via email Lindell stated, “The City is very concerned about public health issues associated with blood-borne pathogens associated with these hypodermic needles.” Chief Toner also said local children should be educated about needle safety and be advised not to touch them if found.
Lindell said public safety and addressing illegal drug use is a big priority for the city, stating that as a response, the mayor and city council recently allocated more funds to the King County Sheriff’s Office for additional patrols to deal with the illegal drug issue.
The city council also approved funds for an additional police officer beginning next year. Currently one officer patrols city boundaries, which is home to about 6,000 residents. Next year that will increase to 1.7 officers for the same area. The city council also passed an ordinance banning camping in public spaces. Toner said North Bend has seen an increase in transients.
Mayor Hearing said he’s spent his whole life in North Bend. He remembers never locking doors; never even having a key to his house growing up. But times have changed, with “lock doors” now being the top crime prevention recommendation of law enforcement.
North Bend officials say safety is the city’s number one priority, spending half their annual budget on public safety services. They are reacting and responding to these changed times to reassure residents that the city is doing everything it can to keep the public safe.
Meeting attendees interested in protecting their own safety questioned the police chief about the best firearm to carry. An audience member reported Toner’s cautioning response was, “get whatever kind of gun you want to be shot with,” reminding the crowd that firearms can be used against them and they should be prepared for that.