Burien Police storefront takes an old-school approach

While the idea of a ‘storefront’ police officer is not new to King County – Kent, White Center, Skyway, Seatac, and others have had them several years – Burien has only recently joined in with the practice of having a fulltime presence in the downtown business district.

Deputy Mark Hayden

The storefront is more of a community-focused, old-school approach to policing. It’s basically having an officer who’s out there most every day, walking a beat.

“It allows us to look at problem solving instead of crisis response,” said Burien Police Chief Ted Boe. People feel more comfortable and safer having that visibility, someone with a presence that’s around but not actively arresting someone, Boe continued. It’s building a tight relationship with the community to “help prevent issues and develop ideas on how to increase safety and services.”

The need was there

King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) Deputy Mark Hayden has lived in Burien for nearly 20 years, but he grew up in Ballard at a time when there was a Seattle Police officer that patrolled the neighborhood on foot. The officer in Ballard “was an ex-Marine with a high and tight haircut that carried himself,” Hayden said. People in the community knew the officer, would see him around, engaging with people and the businesses. That had an impact on Hayden as a youngster.

Like many communities, Burien has experienced a recent uptick in crime in the downtown area, including burglaries and car prowls. And like other communities, Burien is very busy with calls for service. With KCSO grappling with higher than usual staff vacancies, businesses were not seeing enough police presence downtown to provide a sense of safety and security for those coming to the city.

“Police visibility helps encourage the community and discourage the negative activity,” Deputy Hayden explained. People and business owners in the community reinforced that in his interactions with them. “So, I went to my chief and captain to encourage at least a limited amount of time to provide a presence downtown,” he said

“Burien is not just where Mark works, but also where he lives,” Boe said. “When he approached me with the idea of trying the storefront there a couple years ago, I thought it was a great idea.” Chief Boe was able to get funding for Deputy Hayden to work one day a week, and the community response was overwhelmingly positive. So much so, that after less than a year, the Burien City Council came up with an investment in downtown public safety that allowed this position to be full time.

Burien faces the same societal issues as any city, including providing support for people experiencing homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health issues. The storefront officer position is also involved in outreach along with Crime Reduction units, connecting those people in need to services when we can, while educating the public about their efforts. “We let the community know we’re here, monitoring the situation, and trying to help these folks,” Hayden said.

Connecting with the community

With COVID-19 restrictions loosening up, there are more opportunities to engage with the community. Burien Starbucks recently held a Coffee with a Cop event where community members were invited to engage in conversations with their local officers. The community is extremely supportive, as it provided an opportunity to talk one-on-one in a casual atmosphere. These events help educate the public on what police enforcement is like, instead of just talking to police when they’ve been called for an emergency.

“I interact with kids all the time,” Deputy Hayden said. He keeps little bags with police trinkets with him, like Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, plastic badges, stickers. He says it’s so important to interact with kids and take away the fear they might have of police. He’s overheard parents warn their kids “You better be good or he’s gonna throw you in the car and take you to jail.” Hayden prefers the positive approach to make kids feel comfortable and to know that the police are there to help. “I’ll let them sit in the driver seat of my car sometimes, turn on the lights,” he said with a grin. “It goes a long way for the parents and other adults to see it, too. I don’t want them to be afraid.”  

“I want my friends to feel safe and have a connection with the PD,” Hayden emphasized, “And I want people visiting the city to feel safe and enjoy their time here.”