Washington county sheriff tells deputies to not enforce city's new homeless encampment legislation

Burien Mayor Kevin Schilling: 'We need to ensure that we are prioritizing treatment over tents, and public safety over politics so that we can get folks off the streets and into shelter and services'

The King County, Washington sheriff has directed her deputies to not enforce a City of Burien order outlawing homeless encampments within 500 feet of locations like schools and parks until the constitutionality of the order was resolved, without telling city officials.

Now, Burien Mayor Kevin Schilling is examining the inter-local agreement between the city and county sheriff’s office. Schilling said if he determines the agreement was broken, he would consider establishing a city-run police department.

Burien's city council adopted a new ordinance on March 4, which prohibits people from sleeping overnight on public property from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. the next day, if a shelter, bed or treatment facility is available.

Camping on public property is also prohibited during daytime hours under the new law.


Heat Wave 5

Orson Lee, who's been homeless for six years, drinks water from a water bottle while outreach worker Mary Guiberson looks on at a park in Burien, Wash. Outreach teams have fanned out to provide water and other aid to the homeless. (AP Photo/Manuel Valdes)

When the new ordinance was passed, the city said on its website that it was collaborating closely with the Kings County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) and service partners to ensure outreach and services were offered before the code is enforced. The city also said the KCSO understands that the code cannot be enforced without first verifying that a shelter, bed or treatment facility is available.

King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall, on Friday, told her deputies to not enforce the ordinance, KTTH reported, citing concerns over the constitutionality of the new law.

"We have strong concerns on whether the terms of this ordinance are constitutional, based on the existing legal authority," the station reported Cole-Tindall as saying.


Seattle homeless

Andrea Suarez dismantles a tent as garbage lies piled at a homeless encampment on March 13, 2022 in Seattle, Washington.  (John Moore/Getty Images)

"I do not want any of you to find yourself in a situation where you are asked or expected to do something that could violate legally-established rights," the sheriff wrote in an email obtained by the station. "I am directing you that we will not enforce this particular section of the Burien Municipal Code until the constitutionality of the public camping ordinance is resolved."

placeholderCole-Tindall did not make Burien city officials aware of the decision, including Schilling.

The county executive and sheriff’s ffice did not immediately respond to inquiries from Fox News Digital on the matter.


Tents lining walkway in Portland, Oregon

FILE - King County, Washington sheriff's deputies were directed by its leader to not enforce a new ordinance in Burien, outlawing homeless encampments within 500 feet of locations like schools and parks.  (iStock)

The sheriff was appointed by King County Executive Dow Constantine, a move granted by voters in 2021.

"This is the undemocratic situation that occurs when a higher government official gets to dictate what occurs in local governments," Schilling told Fox News Digital. "The City of Burien pays millions of dollars to the King County Sheriff’s Office with the expectation they will enforce our city codes and laws to keep the community safe and publicly accessible for all."

The mayor said Constantine and Cole-Tindall are prioritizing politics over public safety.

The station reported that Constantine has not been supportive of Burien’s moves to address homelessness because she does not support sweeps.

The 30-year-old mayor said he was in high school when Constantine was elected in 2009, and for years, problems have not been solved.

"Instead, King County has the highest level of homelessness ever, the highest number of overdose deaths in the country, and continuously increasing taxes for programs that do not show results or solve problems," Schilling said. "I believe in government accountability and individual responsibility. This isn’t a liberal or conservative problem. The issue of homelessness, drug addiction, mental health issues, and criminal activity cuts across traditional partisan divides.

"We need to ensure that we are prioritizing treatment over tents, and public safety over politics so that we can get folks off the streets and into shelter and services," he added.

KTTH reported that city council members passed the ordinance in a 5-2 vote, as members saw the legislation as an "emergency ordinance," connected with health and public safety implications of a previous law that banned camping on public property.

Despite not enforcing the homeless encampment ordinance, Cole-Tindall told deputies to continue enforcing criminal code violations.

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