By ALAN R. TOWNSEND
2013 was a year of change in the Poulsbo Police Department. 2014 appears to be another year with more change and more challenges.
The most notable issue is the impact of illegal drugs, especially heroin, on communities across the country. Poulsbo is no exception. It’s expected that at least three quarters of all property crimes are related to illegal drugs. Mayor Erickson has made it a priority in this community to combat heroin and other illegal drugs. While we may not be able to stop abuse of the drugs, we will work diligently to make Poulsbo an unpleasant location to buy, sell or use them. And in turn, we will impact other crimes such as burglaries and thefts.
In 2014, we will be moving toward new, more cost-effective technology. This mainly impacts the computers in our cars, but also relates to our online reporting systems and records management system. In the next couple of years, heavy-duty computers that cost around $4,000 will need to be replaced with a lighter, more versatile and more cost-effective unit, similar to a tablet computer. We will also look to replace our in-car camera systems with a more cost-effective advanced body-worn camera system that we are testing now with some officers.
A huge issue that we took head on in 2013 — law enforcement response to persons with mental illness — will continue to develop in 2014. We have made significant progress, but have more to do. The implementation of Crisis Intervention Officers for every agency is under way. This will provide the ability to call officers with advanced training in mental illness to the scene of incidents where time is on our side.
We also continue to work toward a reporting system where family members of persons with mental illness and public safety agencies can input information into a data base that can provide additional information to first responders to help provide personalized techniques to avoid conflict when dealing with persons with mental illness. Training for all law enforcement officers will also continue into 2014, with the hope that this training and the reporting system can be funded through the new mental health sales tax.
An additional police officer funded by the City Council will be hired in late January. This new position will allow us to devote a police officer position to the Bremerton Police Department Special Operations Group. This multi-detective unit works around the county to impact illegal drugs and other related crimes. Our relationship with Bremerton PD makes this partnership perfect for Poulsbo. Instead of trying to work these crimes alone, with one devoted detective, we can use the resources of a half-dozen detectives with extra resources, techniques and skills simply not available to one individual.
Besides drug issues, the police department will continue to look at how we operate. I don’t think anyone will argue with the fact that we are understaffed. While the economy is continuing to improve, the tax revenue to help support additional personnel will come very slowly, especially as costs of living increase faster than tax revenues. Because of this, we must continue to look at ways we can streamline our operations without compromising service. We must find additional ways to partner with the other law enforcement agencies in Kitsap to reduce duplication and make all agencies more efficient and cost effective.
Currently, Poulsbo PD has a court services officer that provides electronic home monitoring services to just Poulsbo. There is no logical reason we can’t share these services with other cities. In fact, we are discussing this concept now with Port Orchard: Share the costs, reduce duplication, and make all of us more efficient. We also share with all of the other municipal agencies and the state patrol an investigative response team for violent crime, officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. Called Kitsap County Investigative Response Team, the team is made up of detectives from all agencies that can be called out immediately. They bring with them enhanced skills and experience to investigate serious violent crimes.
In the future, we must seriously consider more significant consolidations of law enforcement agencies. I’m not convinced that one agency for the entire county is smart, but I do see serious benefits to regional policing. While no one wants to lose the local control of their law enforcement agency (and there are clearly differences in policing from city to city, region to region), regional consolidation could make perfect sense. The cost savings won’t likely be in patrol officers, but it could be considerable in administration and support services costs.
And as important, it could allow us to bolster our efficiencies, strengthen relationships, and reduce duplication in task forces, training, detectives and other specialized units and support services.
— Alan R. Townsend is chief of the Poulsbo Police Department.