Arlington cracks down on panhandling, illegal camping

ARLINGTON — A citywide crackdown on illegal camping, panhandling and drug crimes has kicked off in Arlington with updated city codes and plans for a new satellite police station in Smokey Point.

The new police station is expected to be operating within 30 days, Arlington Public Safety Director Bruce Stedman said. The city is still pinning down a location.

Stedman plans to have some of Arlington’s 27 officers work from the Smokey Point station. This would give police a stronger presence in an area where business owners are worried about crime and the homeless, Stedman said.

Smokey Point is one of three areas in the city where problems have been particularly prevalent, city administrator Kristin Banfield said. The others are Haller Park and Twin Rivers Park.

Newly approved city codes give police more authority to address panhandling and illegal camping, activities often associated with drug use, Stedman said.

The Arlington City Council unanimously approved the code changes July 7.

The new language makes it illegal to ask for money, food or anything else within 300 feet of an intersection, park, school zone, day care, nursing home, bank, parking lot, bus stop, or highway on or off ramp. It also prohibits begging on a bus; within 25 feet of an occupied handicapped parking space; or within one foot of another person.

Unless a private property owner gives permission, camping or keeping things on someone else’s property is also prohibited.

People can be fined up to $1,000 or sentenced to 90 days in jail for violating the new regulations.

The city still aims to provide resources to people who are homeless, Banfield said. Arlington works with United Way and the state Department of Social and Health Services.

“The people we’re focusing on are the ones with drug addiction issues who have burned every last bridge,” Banfield said.

Marysville has also moved to cut down panhandling and drug crimes. Marysville and Arlington started their Keep the Change campaign last year, urging people to say no when asked for money.

It’s important not to give money directly to panhandlers, Banfield and Stedman said. If people can make a living that way, they have no motivation to get off the street.

Drug users, particularly heroin addicts, use panhandling to fund their habit while camping in the woods around town, Stedman said.

“Our problem is that this community is so giving, so these individuals are sometimes making between $200 and $300 a day by panhandling,” Stedman said. “I’ve been barraged by community members, by business members, about the crime that these individuals bring.”

He said police respond to hundreds of call each year at the Walmart in Smokey Point, mainly for shoplifting. Elsewhere, they’ve found camps in the woods littered with trash and used hypodermic needles.

“It’s just a bad situation,” Stedman said. “The citizens of Arlington are done. They’ve had it.”

Stedman, who has been Arlington’s Public Safety Director for about five weeks, said each 12-hour shift of police officers handles up to 70 incidents, some of them 911 calls and others initiated by a police officer while patrolling. About 25 of those incidents are usually related to drug crimes, trespassing, illegal campfires or panhandling. Arlington police plan to roll out a community policing plan in August at National Night Out. The goal is to get people who live and work in Arlington involved with reporting illegal activity and being aware of problems in their neighborhoods.

“We need everyone involved,” Stedman said. “We want people in on this.”

The updated city codes took effect Tuesday. Banfield said the city has been working since July 7 to educate the homeless about the new restrictions.

“In the past few days, they’re getting harder to find,” Banfield said. “So they’re getting the message that they need to move along.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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