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One City’s 911 Calls Come Mostly from a Single Stretch of Road

Kennewick, Wash., police officers were called to a single avenue more than 280 times to address a range of issues, from loitering to assaults. Officials voted to rezone the area.

Kennewick, Wash., is bringing in a new method to help an area of the city that has seen skyrocketing 911 calls.

Last year, officers were called more than 280 times to a 1-mile stretch of Clearwater Avenue for problems ranging from thefts to loitering to overdoses and assaults.

Kennewick police told the Tri-City Herald that rampant drug use in the area has led to other related crimes and it's taking a toll on business owners and residents in the area that stretches from North Arthur Street near WinCo Foods to North Morain near Walker's Furniture.

The Kennewick City Council voted unanimously to shift the area into its no "Sit-Lie" zone ordinance, swapping it for a stretch of Canal Drive that police say is no longer a big trouble spot.

It's a tool that police already have seen success with in downtown Kennewick less than a year after implementing a zone there, Stephanie Button, director of the Historic Downtown Kennewick Partnership, told the Herald.

The new zone encompasses just a few blocks of commercial and retail space with residential neighborhoods to the north and south.

The new "Sit-Lie" zone for Clearwater Avenue includes WinCo, Maverik's Adventure Stop and several smaller shopping areas. It's second one on Clearwater and one of four total in the city.

New Sit-Lie Zone

Assistant City Attorney Laurencio Sanguino told the council that the WinCo shopping area is getting more calls than any other business in the city.

"Clearwater Avenue is the most important patrol area and WinCo is the most frequent caller in the city, and the second most frequent is Walmart," Sanguino said.

But instead of adopting a new ordinance, officials instead updated the existing 'Sit-Lie' code to substitute the Clearwater hot spot for the Canal Drive stretch.

The Canal Drive area was between North Kellogg Street and North Young Street, and it included The Colonnade and Canal Crossing shopping centers. That stretch had just three calls for police last year.

These 'Sit-Lie' ordinances are often seen in areas where businesses are struggling with issues related to homelessness, drug use or street crimes. They prohibit certain types of activity between 6 a.m. and midnight, with exceptions such as medical emergencies, business uses and people waiting to catch a bus.

It allows police an enforcement mechanism to encourage people causing problems to leave the area and is enforceable with a misdemeanor charge if necessary.

They are not public camping bans, though other Washington cities have run into trouble for trying to tie the two together.

"Ordinances like this are never taken lightly, this wasn't a knee jerk reaction. It was built on several years of data collection," Button said. "It's important to recognize that people have a right to exist and it's hard, we realize that, but we needed a solution that would allow us to conduct our business."

In 2023, the area around WinCo received calls for 36 welfare checks, 20 calls for suspicious activity, 14 for drug activity, 11 calls for loitering and three suspected overdoses, according Kennewick police data.

By far the largest number of calls was for thefts at 131, followed by 47 trespassing calls.

There also were two assaults reported and two calls for destruction of property. Kennewick police responded to six weapons complaints in the same area.

"It provides officers with more to work with, which hopefully will lead to a decrease in calls for service. As you can imagine when (someone) is charged with theft or trespassed, they remain in the area," Sanguino said. "It increases the likelihood that residents leave the area after officers contact them."

The city also heard from both council members and the public over the past year about drug use at Union Street and Clearwater near the Maverik.

Council members Loren Anderson and Jason McShane mentioned seeing issues on the side streets as well, such as North Volland Street.

"That's a common area for drug use and people camping out," Anderson said. "I pass through there regularly and it's very common."

The area near Maverik was cited as one of the areas where public drug use was most visible when the council passed new public drug use ordinances last year.

"If you remember, this is where the drug ordinance originated from because residents there saw a concentrated number of residents using or disposing in or around WinCo," Sanguino said.

While the city now has ordinances to help discourage public drug use and disposal of paraphernalia, such as foil used to smoke fentanyl, those tools require a much narrower set of circumstances.

With the 'Sit-Lie' area, the hope is that when someone is caught stealing from a business or causing a disturbance, they won't remain in the area causing more problems.

Making a Difference

Button said the city was able to tailor the ordinance in a way that wouldn't punish people who weren't being disruptive or engaging in illegal activities in the downtown area.

She said the combination of the ordinances has started to make a real difference, and gone a long way to help business owners and customers feel safer.

"It takes thought, it takes an understanding of the environment," she said. "It's just one tool in our toolkit with our partners across the city. We believe in a clean, safe, connected downtown Kennewick."

Button said they worked with police and city staff to weigh options that would allow business owners to protect themselves and their customers, while also recognizing that someone might be struggling.

She said that the organization didn't want to infringe on anyone's right to public spaces, but because their businesses front sidewalks and most have no parking lots, owners needed some kind of recourse to rising crime, public drug use and disruptive behavior blocking the walkways into their stores.

"We think it's helping. When we would have gatherings of individuals we did see open drug use. I think it was at its worst the summer of 2022 and we were seeing a lot of open drug use in parking lots, street corners and on benches," she said. "We have also observed a decrease in the number of sharps (such as needles) and paraphernalia. We think it has created a greater sense of safety now that there's something that can be done about it."

She said they're also ready to partner with the Columbia Valley Center for Recovery, the region's first public behavioral health center, which will be located downtown. It's set to open within the next two years.

Data Driven Changes

Kennewick Police Chief Chris Guerrero said the department planned to gather more data and come back to council in the future if it supported expanding the zone near Winco to Hood Avenue to the north and Union Street and the Kennewick Avenue intersection to the south.

Kennewick police Commander Isaac Merkl told the Herald that the department used data and feedback from community members to assess whether this stretch of Clearwater being shifted to a 'Sit-Lie' area would have more of an impact on public safety than the Canal zone.

"The calls range from all over the map but some of the consistent issues there besides theft were drug use, were welfare checks on people experiencing the effects of drug use and the other activities that come with the constant impact of drug use in the area," Merkl said.

Kamiakin High School is just a few blocks from the new zone, and hundreds of students walk to school along Edison Street to the west and Arthur Street to the East. They also stop at businesses along the way.

Ensuring their safety while doing so is a priority for Kennewick police.

"Any time we have youths out walking about we want them to feel like they don't have a care in the world and they're safe and can be a kid.," Merkl said "We have to look at that (crime in the area) and see how that can impact our children."

The neighborhoods around the area also saw a lot of high profile crime in 2023, including the murder of Arthur Amaya at a nearby apartment complex and several drive-by shootings.

Interim City Manager Lisa Beaton, who is the city attorney, said that the areas need to be narrowly defined in order to keep the city from being opened up to legal action. Beaton said that previous legal challenges in the state show that there must be a business impact.

"Canal didn't seem to be as much of a problem, whereas clearly this area of Clearwater there is. There's a nexus between the conduct that's occurring impacting our business areas," she said.

Merkl said their goal is to prioritize safety in the area and improve quality of life for business owners and residents.

"We're constantly looking at the data and figuring out how we can best use our resources to protect these hot spots," he said.

Concerned residents or business owners can reach out to Kennewick police to discuss issues in their community by calling the department's non-emergency number at 509-628-0333.

The four areas of Kennewick where the 'Sit-Lie' ordinance is in place include:

  • Clearwater Avenue to Kennewick Avenue, between Yelm Street and Huntington Street.
  • 24th Street to 28th Street, between Tweedt Street and Olson Street.
  • Clearwater Avenue between Arthur Street and Morain Street.
  • 1st Avenue to Canal Drive between Dayton Street and Washington Street.

(c)2024 Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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