It was standing room only in the Whatcom County Fire District 17 (WCFD17) station’s meeting room as over 50 Sandy Point area neighbors gathered last night to meet with representatives from Lummi Nation Police (LNP) and Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO).
WCFD17 Fire Chief Jim Petrie said the Fire Station on Sucia Drive had suffered a break-in recently and a portable power generator was found several feet from the building. It had been abandoned by the still-unidentified burglar after becoming immobilized by a cord wound around a wheel. Since then, Chief Petrie has had security systems installed in the District’s buildings.
Several Sandy Point residents attending the meeting spoke of other recent incidents of boats on trailers, gasoline and other items being taken. In some cases, the persons suspected of being involved were observed brazenly walking through properties and into homes.
One neighbor said her stolen boat was returned after being located by Drug Enforcement Administration officers while it was being used to transport drugs.
Neighbors said they were concerned whether they were getting an adequate response from law enforcement.
Some neighbors at the meeting said, since they lived within the Lummi Reservation, LNP would be the first to respond. But, it seemed to them, LNP usually were required to call WCSO to respond when the suspects were identified as non-tribal.
Neighbors felt the LNP officers’ would ultimately be calling in WCSO deputies, so they wanted WCSO to respond first. One neighbor said they paid property taxes to the county like everyone else and felt it seemed appropriate to expect WCSO deputies to respond first.
WCSO Deputy Nick Weatherby and LNP Officer Kevin Assink were sympathetic and explained how their responses to calls are due to jurisdictional requirements that tend to hinder both LNP officers and WCSO deputies when dealing with crimes by non-tribal persons on reservation land.
Both law enforcement representatives also pointed to their agencies’ shared challenge of being understaffed.
Deputy Weatherby compared Whatcom County law enforcement coverage with that of metro Seattle’s. “We don’t have a policeman for every 4 blocks like they do.” Instead, he pointed out, the nearest deputy is likely to be miles away dealing with a series of 911 calls across a large area.
Officer Assink said they had responded to about 350 calls to the Sandy Point area, including traffic stops, to date since April 2017 and over 7,000 calls across the entire reservation during the same time. This volume of calls, he pointed out, was being handled by 7 LNP officers.
One neighbor said squatters living in a trailer on an undeveloped beach property were seen transferring items between vehicles that matched the types of items being taken. Other neighbors pointed to the same squatters as the most likely suspects in the recent crime wave and others said they had been a problem for at least 3 years. The question of how the squatters had been able to remain on the property for so long was raised.
Deputy Weatherby informed the audience the squatters could not be removed unless the property owner goes through the process to obtain a court-ordered eviction and that does not appear to have been done. So, unless they could be associated with a crime being investigated, law enforcement personnel have no legal reason to contact them.
Deputy Weatherby’s said it had been his experience in other areas that it took only one squatter property to create a crime spree. He pleaded with the neighbors at the meeting to not hesitate calling 911 to report anything they think is suspicious as these reports provide more information and opportunities to investigate the increase in property crimes in the area.