The Seattle Police Department (SPD) will now police land owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)
according to an interjurisdictional agreement between the two agencies.
The agreement allows Seattle police to enforce violations on WSDOT property, which includes a number of greenbelts along Seattle highways and freeways that serve as large, unofficial homeless encampments.
Greenbelts along Interstate 5 near SODO and Beacon Hill, in particular, are peppered with tents despite wsdot clearing the encampments regularly. The greenbelts are often accessible from sidewalks and have no-trespassing signs posted at the entrances.
The state spends about $250,000 per year clearing encampments along state roads and highways.
The agreement between SPD and WSDOT allows city police to “deter and detect common criminal activity” in the state-owned land, including trespassing, loitering, vandalism, theft, drug trafficking and prostitution.
A spokesperson for spd said that police officers would not be doing the full sweeps that often occur in those places. The agreement allows them to enter the area and inform people that it is state-owned property and that camping is illegal.
The state will continue to manage larger clean-ups. When such a clean-up occurs, the state posts a notice for people to vacate within three days, after which time, state officials and workers from the Department of Corrections will clean up whatever has been left in the area.
SPD's role in those cleanups is simply to stand by, according to a department spokesperson.
More people are staying on greenbelts as homelessness increases in Seattle. In January, volunteers found 3,772 people sleeping outdoors during the annual One Night Count, a 21 percent increase over the 2014 count. The count is a minimum, as volunteers do not venture deeply into greenbelts for safety reasons.
Residents of Seattle Housing Authority’s Yesler Terrace neighborhood have asked that an organized tent encampment be established in a wsdot greenbelt that runs from Yesler Way to Jackson Street, along the east side of I-5, to provide the people staying there a safe place to sleep and to deter crime.