By Mellow DeTray
Here’s our recap of Tuesday night’s (Jan. 17, 2023) Kent City Council meeting:
Awards & Recognitions
Eric Stefas, who has served on the Kent Police force since 2006, was named City Employee of the Month as well as Officer of the Year for 2022. Stefas has worked tirelessly, often serving as the sole Neighborhood Response Team (NRT) officer during the police officer shortage. In addition to serving as the NRT, which develops & maintains relationships across communities, he also responds to calls for things like theft and DUIs. In past years, he worked with a national program to remove guns from the streets, as well as serving on the former gang unit. Stefas was a founding member of the “Cones with Cops” program, serving ice cream to kids and creating positive interactions in higher risk neighborhoods. His exceptional work always exceeds expectations.
Police Chief Rafael Padilla also recognized Leanne Hobbs as Employee of the Year. Hobbs has worked in the Records Unit for 5½ years, in a front-facing personnel position that also involves real time officer support, running background checks, as well as keeping officers up to date on their required training. Hobbs took over much of the critical work during staff shortages.
Roshni Anderson was awarded Corrections Officer of the Year. Anderson is a positive person and a pleasure to work with. She is responsible for training new corrections officers. She has been described as fair, consistent, reliable, and calm during difficult situations throughout her 2½ years at the corrections facility. She is also an accomplished competitive powerlifter, recently placing first in a national competition.
End of Year Public Safety Report
Crime statistics remain high during 2022, after record high crime rates in 2021, but Chief Padilla has a new hope that we will see better numbers this time next year. All but two categories of crime increased in 2022. While vehicular theft increased by nearly 30% to an all-time high of 1969 incidences, vehicle recovery increased by almost 40%, with over 1600 vehicles returned to their owners. Vehicular prowling was one category that decreased by 20% from 2021 numbers, but it’s not clear why this particular category has improved.
Residential burglary increased by 10% to 306 incidents, while commercial burglary increased by 45% to 965 incidents. Aggravated assault increased by almost 40% to 165 incidents, while there were exactly 175 shootings during both 2021 and 2022. Crime rates increased in a similar fashion throughout much of the area, according to Chief Padilla, showing that this is a regional problem.
Padilla remains hopeful that Kent will experience a downturn in crime rates this year, thanks to programs such as the new “Co-Responder Model” with their homeless outreach and focus on prevention (more on this program below). In addition, the Kent Police have been able to hire lots of new officers, including two who were sworn in at this meeting.
Kent PD Co-Responder Program
The Fire Department Community Assistance Referral & Education Services (FD-CARES) pilot project was approved for one year, with a report expected back to Council in 6 months. The program, which addresses problems in the community that stem from homelessness, mental health issues, and substance abuse, had challenges finding the right personnel. However, they now employ 21 people including eight Registered Nurses and eight Social Workers, who work together in two-person teams. These teams conduct intervention patrols, particularly in the core downtown area. They are proactive, talking and connecting to people to develop relationships, before those people are in crisis, as well as helping them when they do have a crisis situation. The teams assist in locating needed resources, as well as conducting medical assessments and vaccine administration on the spot.
The program received half a million dollars in grants in 2022. The cost to the City is $175 thousand per year. These teams will respond to requests by the police and fire departments, and make follow-up visits to community members in need. They will operate 7 days a week, from 8am to 8pm, with the goal of eventually having a staff large enough to provide 24 hour care.
Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023 from 6-8 p.m. is Kent Police’s “Vino with the 5-O” at Reds Wine Bar. This free event was standing room only the last time they held it, so plan to show up early.
The Woodstove Replacement Program ends June 30, so if you want compensation for replacing your wood stove, apply soon on the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency website.
Wetlands Now “Surplus”
Four City-owned areas of wetland in the Bridges neighborhood were voted as surplus, in order to move forward on transferring responsibility from the city of Kent to the homeowners association. The Bridges consists of 175 acres, 60 of which are protected wetlands. The wetlands will remain protected, no matter who owns them, and can never be developed. Care of the wetlands involves trash removal and weed control.