On Sunday, CHS wrote about the many homeless encampments along Capitol Hill’s I-5 shores, how they’re affecting some residents on First Hill, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars the state spends to clear the camps only to have campers return hours later.
City and state “no trespassing” signs dot the landscape along I-5 in the Central Area, and a Washington State Department of Transportation spokesperson told CHS that enforcement is typically handled by the state.
CHS has confirmed Seattle Police can also now enforce no trespassing on these tracts of land without the presence of a state official. In June, SPD signed an agreement with the state allowing officers to patrol the property. Oftentimes a property owner needs to be present on their property to report trespassing. Moreover, SPD has the authority to respond to 911 calls at any property within the city.
A spokesperson for SPD said he was unclear why the agreement happened when it did, but said the department frequently makes similar agreements with other governmental agencies.
UPDATE: The administrative agreement was struck as part of SPD’s ongoing efforts at more humane homeless outreach, said SPD spokesperson Jonah Spangenthal-Lee. Prior to the changes made in June, Spangenthal-Lee said the “trespass enforcement authorizations” were done piecemeal on state property within the city.
Beyond complaints of an uptick in criminal activity and trash around the campsites, many of them are unsafe, perched on ledges above I-5 or uphill from busy off-ramps. A WSDOT spokesperson told CHS that enforcing trespassing was primarily about safety.
How to enforce trespassing, whether on a patch of unused land above an I-5 or in front of a Pike/Pine business, has been a source of confusion for law enforcement and property owners in the past.
In 2011 the city’s Contract Trespass Program was changed after it faced a civil rights lawsuit for unfairly targeting homeless people. In the old program, officers could show up at participating businesses and kick people out. If that person stepped back on the property, they would be arrested. In the reformed approach, offenders are given a written warning describing the specific behavior that got them into trouble with the business. The person is free to return — provided the bad behavior doesn’t.