By LUKE PUTVIN
The Lynnwood Times is beginning a series to show the inner-workings of the Lynnwood Police Department. This will entail interviewing officers and other employees from many different units. As of 2018, according to the department’s Annual Report, there are 111 employees at the LPD; 71 are commission, 38 are non-commissioned and 2 are reserve officers.
To begin the series, the Lynnwood Times sat down with members of the Outreach Team in the Community Health and Safety Section. The team is comprised of Officer Justin Gann, Officer Denis Molloy, Sergeant Dave Byrd and Social Worker Ashley Dawson.
The team puts a large emphasis of their work on outreach into the homeless community. The day of the interview, Officer Molloy had taken an individual from the Diversion Center in Everett to see their family for a few hours, something that is allowed within the first 48 hours of treatment.
According to the Snohomish County website, “The Snohomish County Diversion Center… offers short-term placement and shelter to homeless adults with a substance use disorder and other behavioral health issues, diverting them away from incarceration and toward treatment.”
The only way an individual can get into the diversion center is through an embedded social worker like Dawson.
“The design of the Diversion Center was to have people stay for 14 days, but it can be so difficult to get anyone into any sort of treatment, so people usually stay closer to a month,” Dawson said.
“When our work first started, it was very intentional street outreach,” she continued, recalling entering the team almost two years ago. Dawson also stressed the need of getting to know peoples’ stories – why they are homeless, why they are still using drugs – and creating individualized plans. “If we just put roofs over everyone’s heads, that doesn’t solve the root cause of what is going on. There are other issues that need to get worked through, like PTSD or addiction.”
Dawson emphasized the importance of the enforcement aspect as well as not doing anyone favors or breaking any rules or laws.
“I’ve had people thank me after I arrest them,” Molloy said. He had arrested people for camping in a park with needles, but they had thanked him for treating them like human beings and offering them future services in addition to the arrest. “We’re here to help, but if you step across a line, we will enforce it.”
Molloy has been an officer for 23 years, 22 of those years being a patrol officer. He recalled when he first started.
“Things were more ‘black and white’ then,” he said. You commit a crime; you go to jail. That was it. This whole idea of going out and talking to people and asking if they need help, need a ride somewhere… The line used to be ‘we’re not a taxi service, we’re the police.’ But now we say ‘hop in.’”
“There’s a certain expectation in becoming a police officer,” Molloy went on to say. “You write tickets, arrest people, go to 911 calls, drive fast, get in pursuits, catch thieves, all that kind of stuff. After awhile, it kind of gets old, especially when you arrest the same person over and over… It’s better when you actually go and have a conversation.”
Molloy mentioned that this is simply a different way of doing police work; he is trying to learn a bit of the social work aspect as well.
“We have to be open to each other’s world,” said Dawson. “When I walked into this station, I had to accept everything that came with that. You could not have merged two more different worlds [police and social work]. Truthfully, we’re probably all banging our heads against the walls some days, but it’s a partnership that, maybe we should have explored a long time ago.”
Dawson recalled a past client who had been homeless in the area for about 15 years. He didn’t have a great relationship with the police and would often be arrested for minor offenses, like open containers of alcohol. One day, the team couldn’t find him, and after asking around, they found him in a nearby hospital. His health had deteriorated, he needed an amputation and learned he had leukemia.
Dawson and the team learned the man was a veteran, so he qualified for housing assistance. Even being a veteran, this step wasn’t easy because of his past arrests, but he eventually got into housing.
Dawson said that he still calls for small things since they’ve made that connection.
“He makes it clear he doesn’t like us, even though he calls almost every week,” Dawson said with a slight laugh.
Their process of getting individuals help is not a quick one by any means; they need people to want help before they provide it. Just the outreach and building relationship process itself can take an extremely long time.
“I went into social work knowing that I would be a tireless advocate where some days would be longer than others,” Dawson said. “We have to celebrate and acknowledge the little successes; for example, maybe someone showed up for an appointment late, but they still showed up.”
“For 23 years as a cop, you kind of get used to people saying things to you, and you learn they’re saying it to the uniform,” Molloy said. “If someone said [something insulting to me] before and comes back for help two weeks later, I don’t hold it against them. I let it roll off my back; if they come back and want help, we’ll help.”
Sergeant David Byrd is in charge of the team. Prior to this position, he had been on the graveyard shift, and prior to that, he was the School Resource officer.
“I’m a big supporter of having police in schools; I think it’s an invaluable program,” Byrd said.
In addition to his work as a School Resource Officer, Sgt. Byrd actively worked to bring NARCAN (naloxone) to the department. NARCAN is a nasal spray that can treat a narcotic overdose in an emergency situation.
“It’s a valuable tool to have to save peoples’ lives, so I wanted to bring it to our department,” Byrd said.
On the graveyard shift, the schedule was changed from three days on, three days off to four days on, four days off. The shifts were 12 hours. “The department at one point even pulled me off the graveyard shift for me to do outreach through the Youth Police Camp.”
The previous sergeant of the Outreach Team had moved elsewhere in the department, and Byrd was asked to take on the position temporarily.
“I said ‘sure, why not,’” said Byrd. “I’m a big believer in community outreach, and I believe we should give [the homeless community] help.” His favorite parts of this position are relationship-building and working with different organizations such as the county sheriff’s office, Verdant Health, the Edmonds PD and others.
“This job is very rewarding,” Byrd added. “In the future, I’m hoping to get things like ‘Reading with a Police Officer’ or ‘Recess with the Cops’ into elementary schools. It’s important that, with the national narrative of how the public views police, the community at large knows that’s not the case here. We are here to serve you.”
For more information about the Lynnwood Police Department as a whole, including its mission statement and annual report, visit www.lynnwoodwa.gov/Public-Safety/Police-Department. The Lynnwood Times will continue its series on meeting the police department by covering a different unit in a later issue.