OCEAN PARK — What happens after a resident files a complaint? What if a neighbor sees a possible break-in?

These were some of the topics discussed at the July 25 Community Watch/Neighborhood Watch meeting attended by about 40. The group hosted county leaders for a panel discussion on how crime is handled within different branches of county government.

Panelists included South District Court Judge Nancy McAllister, County Prosecutor Mark McClain, County Sheriff Robin Souvenir and County Code Enforcement Officer Tammy Engel.

Code enforcement

A major focus of the evening was how code evaluations and violations are managed. Engel is the county's only designated employee for handling code enforcement.

She also is in charge of permitting and inspecting waste facilities, transfer stations, and RV parks. In addition, she manages the county's summer litter crew.

"As you can see, I do a lot of different things for the entire county," Engel said. "When you come into my office, see me and think things aren't going as fast as they should be, that's why."

Common complaints include suspected septic-system problems, abandoned recreational vehicles, and properties where trash or other eyesores have accumulated. Once a complaint is submitted with the county's Department of Community Development, administration staff prepare a case, which goes to Engel. She reviews all cases, then decides which issues to work on.

"With my workload I have to prioritize the most egregious of violations," Engel said.

These may be environmental health violations like sewage on the ground, Engel said.

Once Engel chooses a complaint to work on, she goes to the property to see if she can confirm the issue is legitimate. While doing this, she can't go onto the property without permission. Afterward, she issues the property owner a letter and gives them 14 days to comply with regulations. Often, the issue ends up in court.

"Many times people ignore the civil infractions," Engel said. "It's a 30-day process from when I give it to the court and then it goes to collections for no action."

Engel works with the courts on code enforcement. The prosecutor's office will handle complaints once they reach court.

"I go to court for every date that's given," Engel said. "The court relies on me for giving information."

Engel also works with the sheriff's office. Sheriff's deputies sometimes accompany Engel when she goes to properties.

"If she needs to go to a residence and she feels a bit uncomfortable about going there then we'll go with her," Souvenir said.

Engel may work on numerous complaints for one property owner. The process can go even longer if the property owner isn't responsive. This ends up taking more time and resources not only from Engel, but McClain's office.

"The backdrop is the people we're dealing with simply don't care. They're people who frequently go to jail," McClain said. "While they're gone, their 'friends' go out and rob them. They get out of jail, don't have a job and still don't care."

McClain emphasized that he doesn't want to be sending property owners to jail, but that the county wants residents to follow the law.

"The county is risk-averse. Are we really going to go on someone's property and take out their fence or car? Frankly, all we want is compliance," McClain said.

McClain suggested to attendees that if they notice a code violation, to send Engel any evidence they can get legally.

"Don't violate anyone's rights," McClain said. "If you see something, help her out by giving her the evidence."

Handling incidents

Another major focus of the evening was how a 911 call might be handled throughout the different government branches. For example, the panelists discussed what would happen if a resident called 911 about seeing a "suspicious person" inside an empty house.

The incident would start out with dispatch, who'd try to get as much information about the situation as possible, Souvenir said. Once dispatch gets the address, deputies head to the scene.

"When deputies were responding it might not be lights and sirens because we want to catch the guy," Souvenir said. "They need to be safe themselves. We wouldn't expect them to just run in there."

Next, deputies would enter the house, detain the suspect, and search the rest of the house in case another person is there.

"Deputies get a small amount of time to figure out what law has been broken," Souvenir said. "Once they've figured that out, then they can arrest the person."

Deputies then take the suspect to jail and file paperwork on the incident. They may have to later present information at a trial for the incident.

The incident would likely be considered a felony, so it'd go to McClain rather than McAllister. McAllister's court covers small claims, misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors, but no felonies, she said.

"This is absolutely not unique to Pacific County," McClain said. "Every single municipality is dealing with squatters."

McClain said an issue Washington state courts are facing is handling cases where the suspect has a mental illness. If a suspect isn't fit to stand trial within a designated time-frame, the suspect gets released.

"We have a lot of mentally ill that are squatting in some of the homes," McClain said. "We get them into our court and we can't do anything."

Depending on how court proceedings go, the individual may get jail time and have to pay fees to the court system.

Next meeting: The CW/NW program's next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Oct. 24 at the Peninsula Senior Center, 21603 O Lane. For more information on the program, contact Program Coordinator Howard Chang at 425-559-3175 or pc.cwnw@outlook.com.

Alyssa Evans is a staff writer for the Chinook Observer. Contact her at 360-642-8181 or aevans@chinookobserver.com

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