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Officials, community meet to discuss reopening of the Ridge
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS The proposed reopening of the Ridge minimum-security facility drew members of the Snohomish County Council, Corrections and Sheriffs Office to the Arlington Heights Improvement Club March 20, to address area residents concerns.
Laura Hofmann, secretary of the Arlington Heights Improvement Club, opened the meeting by expressing the frustrations that she and a number of her neighbors have felt about being informed after the fact about events taking place in their backyards.
Hofmann listed instances of finding out about escapees from the Ridge hours after they were captured, and about the opening of homes for sex offenders in the newspaper, even after shed called various county agencies to get placed on phone notification lists.
We just want to be informed, Hofmann said. We might even support this, if we knew what was going on.
Hofmann also took issue with what she perceived as a lack of responsiveness from local law enforcement to crimes in the Heights, citing the 18 months it took to shut down a neighborhood meth house after shed reported it, as well as a recent rash of recovery agents in the area, possibly either bounty hunters or repo men, who refuse to identify themselves or their purpose to residents.
Snohomish County Council member John Koster sympathized with Hofmanns concerns, not only because hes a fellow resident of the Heights, but also because he learned about the proposed reopening of the Ridge through the newspaper as well.
Snohomish County Corrections Director Steve Thompson apologized to both Koster and the community for the lack of prior consultation, and suggested that representatives of Snohomish County Corrections could schedule regular meetings with members of the Arlington Heights Improvement Club, to issue updates and receive input on their plans.
Thompson summarized that a proposed deal between Snohomish County and the state of Washington could see the state heading up efforts to hire the staff needed to reopen the Ridge, in exchange for the county providing space in their Everett jail for some of the states community custody violators. He reiterated that the Ridge would not reopen without sufficient staff, but admitted that an additional law enforcement presence around the facility might not be considered a requirement of the Ridges reopening.
Thompson explained that Koster had instructed him to seek additional funding for sheriffs deputies around the Ridge from the state, as part of the deal, but elaborated that the Snohomish County Council as a whole, and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, would ultimately decide whether such a condition would qualify as a deal-killer.
Thompson assured area residents such as Charles ONeal that inmates at the Ridge would be rigorously screened based on their criminal histories, institutional behavior, medical needs and any potential escape risks. He added that the Ridges inmates would not be the escape types most of them would be incarcerated for short stays, and escape attempts or disciplinary problems would result in transfers to other facilities.
Thompson disputed reports that the reopening of the Ridge could happen within weeks, estimating that itd be much more likely to happen after three or four months, if it all.
Snohomish County Sheriffs Office Capt. Herbert Oberg was not so sure that additional patrols would act as a deterrent.
Were not going to make excuses about there not being enough people, because theres never enough people, Oberg said. We work with the resources we have.
When Hofmann relayed accounts shed heard about inmates being released directly from the Ridge, Thompson told her that he had already instructed the Ridges staff that they had no authority to do so, since all Ridge inmates are required to be transported to Everett and released there. He promised that he would fire anyone who disobeyed this order.
Thompson wrapped up his remarks by checking with the community to make sure hed noted their priorities correctly.
What Im hearing from you is that we shouldnt proceed without getting your input, Thompson said. We can work with Laura on that. Also, if we do restart the Ridge, youd like a larger police presence. Finally, you need to know that theres integrity in this system. Those are all reasonable expectations.
The latter expectation was best summed up by the exchange between Thompson and longtime Arlington Heights resident Lee Weston.
Ive owned land in this area for the past 40 years and lived here for 34 years, Weston said. When the state first came in with Indian Ridge, they were deceptive about it, and we didnt realize what it would be. If youre going to do this, just be honest about it.
We wouldnt want this to reflect negatively on the county, Thompson told Weston. We cant afford to have that happen. If people dont have the answers they need, they get concerned and angry.