In early June, Snoqualmie Mayor Katherine Ross reached out to King County Councilmember Sarah Perry to request a larger conversation about cooperation and collaboration by convening an Echo Glen Children’s Center Safety and Security Roundtable, which was held on Thursday, June 22 at Snoqualmie City Hall.
Twenty-five local and regional agency leaders, Mayor Ross, King County Councilmember Sarah Perry, State Representative Lisa Callan, and State Representative Bill Ramos, were in attendance.
“I appreciate Councilmember Perry’s fast response and ability to organize this important roundtable in such a short amount of time,” Ross said. “Bringing together education, municipal, county and state representatives to share information was a collaborative step that will positively impact Echo Glen Children’s Center, the agencies that serve it, and Snoqualmie residents who are the closest neighbors of the facility.”
Agencies in attendance included the King County Sheriff, King County Emergency Services, Snoqualmie Police and Snoqualmie Fire Departments, Washington State Patrol, Washington State Department of Natural Resources (which leases the land to Echo Glen), Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), Issaquah School District and Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Key among the roundtable discussion items was the 911 process – including how and when various agencies coordinate, collaborate, and respond to the facility – to ensure the most efficient and effective response.
All leaders expressed concern for both local and Echo Glen residents and shared a mutual goal of improving safety and security to prevent future incidents while ensuring incidents receive a measured response to match community risk.
During the roundtable, King County Undersheriff Jesse Anderson said that in the past few years, incidents at Echo Glen have become more frequent and, as such, warrant a different and more coordinated response.
As incidents at the facility inherently involve youth, he also explained that –depending on the level of response needed – an armed police response as a first approach to youth is not always the best path to resolution. Instead, a coordinated response from behavioral health services might be a more optimal first approach.
Given the increase in incident frequency in recent years, DCYF requested and received significant infrastructure investments, including new perimeter fencing at the Echo Glen campus to create a single point of entry, improving the front gate to restrict vehicular access, and improving campus lighting and surveillance. DCYF received $8M during the 2023 legislative session thanks to the strong advocacy of Rep. Callan.
“Things are changing, and, in many areas, they have changed but not at the pace that they need to keep up with staff turnover and changes in our JR population,” said DCYF’s Assistant Secretary of Juvenile Rehabilitation Felice Upton. “We continue to work on enhancing our environment so that all people feel safe and where community safety is not at risk.”
After the roundtable, Mayor Ross requested that Echo Glen host future monthly meetings with roundtable representatives to continue discussions about current issues proactively, coordinated, and collaboratively. DCYF offered to convene a smaller Critical Incident Review meeting to examine recent Echo Glen incidents that could facilitate potential security measures and responses improvements.
The agency will also review the 911 process and protocols with response agencies to ensure agreement on response standards and consistent communication. In addition, DCYF will host a follow-up meeting in late August with a primary focus on more extensive policy and operational impact issues.
“I appreciated Mayor Ross’ request for support in convening this meeting, as the importance of having everyone at the table who is involved in the situation can’t be overstated in our ability to achieve the most efficient, effective and appropriate response for all involved,” Councilmember Perry said. “We will never solve this issue by looking at one part of the elephant. We must take the whole into consideration for any real progress. I appreciated the active participation of everyone present. It is clear that every single person in that room really cares about what is happening here. I am looking forward to the next steps.”
All of these steps coincided with the July 5 start date of the new Echo Glen Detention Center Superintendent, who will hold a principal role in coordinating these important Echo Glen meetings.
“Safety and security are our top priorities; we can’t focus on rehabilitation without keeping our staff, residents, and community safe,” Upton said.
[Information provided by the King County Council]