Are the inmates running the asylum?

Another town hall meeting was held on Thursday, June 26 at Redway School. This one was a little bit different than those held previously. There was only one topic on the agenda and that was the lack of law enforcement in South Humboldt. Organized by the Garberville-Redway Area Chamber of Commerce with the help of Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell it was very well attended.

Chamber Executive Director Cinnamon Paula opened the meeting with a passionate statement expressing not only her personal frustration but that of the Chamber's members as well. Basically, the business owners and many local residents are fed up with lack of law enforcement personnel in Southern Humboldt.

This meeting was very well run and Supervisor Fennell did an excellent job as moderator by keeping a lid on what could have been another boiling pot of very angry citizens. Almost everyone who spoke stayed on topic, although there were a few who strayed off into their own personal causes. Fennell also kept the comments fairly short to allow time for everyone to speak. Even with those controls the meeting was three hours long.

If you come to town for any length of time, especially during the day, you would have to be blind not to see the influx of people blocking the sidewalks, especially in front of Ray's Food Place where the cement wall is clearly marked NO LOITERING in numerous places. In most towns this time of year our sidewalks are crowded by tourists with families, but not here. Lately, it has been people sitting, laying and loitering in front of businesses, usually with more than one dog. I was recently caught in the middle of a dog fight when I decided not to walk out into the street as I usually do, but to walk right through the middle of a group and down the sidewalk.

Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey and Undersheriff Bill Honsal explained they are doing the best they can with the budgetary restrictions they are dealing with. The crowd was not impressed with these continuing explanations. People are frustrated with the lack of law enforcement coverage not only at night, when there is none, but also during the day when the transient levels seem to be the highest on our streets.

One single mother talked about how her young children have been propositioned about drugs near the veterans park while walking home from school. She also said she witnesses unacceptable behavior there on a regular basis including drug use and sales and sexual promiscuity.

A young woman who works late said she came home one night after work to find a man in her bed. When asked what she could do to protect herself, Undersheriff Honsal told her she has every right to protect herself. After asking more than once, the woman left the podium still unsure exactly what that meant and how she is supposed to defend herself in this kind of situation with no law enforcement to call.

Another young woman said she came home recently to find that someone had urinated on her bed and was apparently still in her house. She ran out and contacted a friend who returned with a baseball bat but the perpetrator was gone. The woman was obviously afraid to return to her home and no longer feels safe living here.

Both Downey and Honsal told everyone to keep calling 911 and even if there is no one to respond, at least it goes on the record and will provide documentation of an emergency call. The old saying, "The squeeky wheel gets the grease," is a bit outdated here. I think it has evolved into an entire fleet of 18-wheel trucks. So keep calling but don't expect any response in a timely manner, if at all.

Our local substation Sergeant Ken Swithenbank and one of his deputies have been out on administrative leave and on vacation after they were involved in a shooting in Shelter Cove. This was a perfect example of a convicted felon who should not have been out on the streets and almost cost the lives of two Humboldt County deputies.

This shows how our current district attorney has not been able to keep these repeat offenders in jail and off our streets. When the DA's office can keep immigrant trimmers locked up for months and turn a meth dealer caught with two pounds loose the next day, there is something very wrong with our justice system. We hope our new DA will be able to improve on this record of turning convicted drug dealers and felons back out and on to our streets only to be arrested over and over again.

Home invasion burglaries are also up. The question is, "Have we brought a lot of this on ourselves?" We are an area supported by the marijuana industry and with that comes some responsibility for what is happening. The days of the mom and pop operations are gone. The "big boys" are here now and with them comes more of the violent criminal element. Not only is there an increase in crime, but an increase in violent crime and those we might find undesirable are now members of our community.

So, what is the solution? I don't know and I'm not sure who does. What I do know is that people are leaving our area and taking their kids and their community values with them. If our sheriff doesn't do something, and do it quick, we may see more and more people on our street corners selling way more than just beads and trinkets.