Creativity is key to meeting the challenges we face.
We’re facing four major challenges – all equally big. First, we’re one of the top five fastest growing counties in the country, and we’re having a hard time keeping up with that growth. We’re not currently staffed appropriately to provide the level of service we’d like to. Most days it feels like we’re throwing mud on the wall and seeing what sticks. We’re working with other elected officials on growth, helping them see why we need add staff, but it has been and continues to be a serious challenge.
We also police the transit system. Plus, a new commercial airport is set to open where Boeing is, and we have to police that also. We have got to staff up to these changes, and it’s been a challenge, especially in the current climate. We’ve had to become a lot of more engaged with the community and connect with youth.
Then come the big three: mental illness, homelessness, and the opioid crisis. All three affect how we manage policing. We’re constantly thinking about how to keep everyone safe and in the loop. These issues create challenges that force us to look beyond traditional policing. How do we retool ourselves?
We’re in the midst of a public health crisis: 60-70 percent of our inmate pop have reported metal illness in the last five years. The Snohomish County Jail isn’t staffed for or designed to be a mental health hospital. We can’t use the jail in this way. People aren’t getting the help they need. We can’t make them healthy and are thus sending them back out with same issues. We’ve enhanced our medical staff, brought in outside vendors, we use Facetime for therapy with outside providers, and partnered with the state to bring folks in part-time. But the state is backlogged.
And there’s the opioid crisis. Over 90 percent of our homeless population is suffering from an addiction or mental health issue. Some of our deputies are partnered with social workers, and they’re going out to homeless camps to try to figure out who needs help with addiction and get them treatment.
This is a nationwide crisis that’s on everyone’s mind; everyone wants to talk about it, and it’s going to be here for a while. The thing I’m proud of are the changes we’ve made: a pair of handcuffs and a trip to jail doesn’t work with this crisis. It won’t get us out of this. People say “take them to jail” all the time, but when we give people a hand up, we connect with them, we get them help, they’re not in our system anymore.
Ours is the one business that doesn’t want repeat customers. It’s not fair that we have to fix it, but nontraditional methods are working. We’re trying to be creative as we can. I deal with a lot of people — good families — who are dealing with this. These are human beings. We don’t choose who we protect and serve, it’s everybody.
Over 30 years in law enforcement has taught me a lot.
I’m getting ready to start my 32nd year in this profession. Back when I joined the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department as a deputy, I was chosen to be part of a community policing program. My experience with that program is something that has stuck with me and set me on a path toward working very closely with the community. I learned a lot from it. For example, I learned the importance of saying, “I’m sorry, we shouldn’t have done that.” And I’ve learned the importance of sitting with people and working together to find solutions.
Our motto is “community first,” and it’s the defining value of my career.
We understand our role as law enforcement; it’s a very honorable but contentious task.
If there’s one thing I’d like the people of Snohomish County to know about our job, it’s that we understand our role. We’re very fortunate to live in a community that supports law enforcement, and in turn we work really, really hard to reduce crime and be engaged in the community.
Every single day we work to engage and connect — and take our lumps when we need to. We don’t ever lose sight of that. Our is a very honorable but contentious task, and we have to be compassionate in everything we do.
-Sheriff Trenary, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, Washington