“Vagrant faces of Monroe” webpage, which catalogs accused people, wants its anti-street crime message to empower residents
MONROE — A new Facebook group focusing on street crimes in Monroe has gathered more than 900 members in its first five weeks. Recently, group members began a series of meetings with city officials they hope will lead to a community-wide town hall.
The Facebook page “The
vagrant faces of Monroe Wa.” was founded by wife and husband Cory and Darren Roller and created to make Monroe safer.
On the site, members share experiences and post photos about aggressive panhandling, drug use, car prowls, loitering and homeless encampments.
The group itself has attracted some unwanted attention and has had to clarify its purpose. Cory Roller said they don’t tolerate hateful speech and violators are banned from the group. She has begun receiving hateful messages for their efforts, she said.
The group is not about attacking homeless people but about safety, she explained. After a woman reported being raped in Al Borlin Park on Oct. 3, Roller felt she had to do something. Her husband created the page that day, and it took off, she said.
Members are encouraged to report crimes to police, encourage business owners to discourage panhandling and, according to the group page description, let “the unwanted know we are watching them.”
“The more publicity these people get, the easier it will be able to identify them as nuisances to our community. Help to take back our streets Monroe,” the group description read last week.
She hopes the group effort helps with several city problems: She does not want friends to find syringes in the yard where their children play, she said, and she wants people with drug addictions to get help.
“We don’t hate homeless people,” and “we don’t want people to blame police”
Cory Roller said. “It’s not a vigilante justice group.”Cory Roller has empathy for homeless people: she still vividly remembers living in a tent with her children. She was working at the time, she said, but could not afford rent.
Mayor Geoffrey Thomas is taking residents’ concerns seriously. The city has had several meetings with individual group members. A group of members met with the mayor Nov. 8.
Thomas described in an interview how the city is engaged in numerous efforts on homelessness.
“We’re the first community to have an embedded social worker outside Everett,” Thomas said as an example. Another measure is weekly sweeps of Al Borlin Park. Thomas shared that from 2016 to 2017, burglaries dropped 52 percent, and vehicle prowls 69 percent.
The mayor said he will definitely offer a community meeting, but would prefer to hold this after the city’s new police chief is sworn in, which may be as soon as early December.
Thomas said he is always open to feedback about what might work better. Once the new chief is in place, he plans to form an advisory board on the overlapping issues of homelessness, mental illness, drug addiction and street crimes. The board will include community members as well as officials.
“I have a high degree of confidence Monroe’s doing more than most communities under 90,000 people in Washington,” Thomas said.
“The people willing to accept help we’re helping. For people not willing to accept help, we have a process.” These people go to jail, and go before a judge, and the judge works with city officials to break the cycle, Thomas said.
Interim deputy police chief Ryan Irving said the level of street crimes has remained “fairly consistent,” but people drawing attention to the issues increases awareness.
“Serving as mayor nearly five years, I see this is an ongoing issue in the Puget Sound region, what’s changed is our level of involvement,” Thomas said.
Thomas and Irving also agree it is essential community members call police every time they witness a crime or have a concern. Solely posting on Facebook is not enough.
Thomas believes it will take more than city efforts to solve the problem, though, including more funding and changes to state laws that make mandating involuntary mental illness treatment easier.
Cory Roller said she understands the city cannot solve everything and sometimes police’s hands are tied.
Police cannot always take action but there are sometimes options even when they cannot, Irving explained. He always wants residents to call police to assess concerning situations.
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