Police department tackles growth

In order to deal with Sequim’s growth, the Sequim Police Department has had to grow, too, but the transition from a rural to small city police department may be having a negative effect on department morale.

The police department, during the May 19 meeting of the Sequim City Council, presented an overview of the department’s strategic policing plan. Although the plan was created in 2006 and reaches to the year 2012, as a living and breathing document, it is continually updated.

The plan is a sort of road map for the department, setting out yearly goals that are, according to a department memo, “designed to enhance performance, service to the community, deal with growth and crime challenges,” as well as serve as a report to the city council and the rest of the Sequim community, providing statistical information regarding previous years’ activities.

Obtaining a new facility continues to be a major issue and priority for the police department. The department has already established that including a new station within the proposed Sequim city hall is infeasible because of the sort of clientele the police receive, as well as the fact that the station would have to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Earlier this year Chief Robert Spinks, who is currently serving as the city’s interim manager, told the city council that he had found a potential developer and site, as well as a tentative price tag. Spinks would not publicly disclose the developer’s identity, the site’s location or the price tag for the project. He did say, however, that the developer had offered to cover the costs of planning the project.

Improving technology is also an area of concern for the department. According to Lt. Sheri Crain, the department’s records management system desperately needs to be improved, as well as radio dispatching.

“You can’t get a word in edgewise,” said Crain, adding that the increased radio traffic greatly affects police safety because officers have trouble reporting in.

Cramped facilities and archaic technologies, combined with more incidents and arrests, seem to be adding to officers’ stress. Department employees in 2005 and 2007 answered a number of questions regarding morale, the level of training, the fairness of promotions and communication or lack thereof within the department. Employees’ morale went down from 2005 to 2007, as did the number of employees who believed promotions and assignments were fairly doled out and discipline fairly administered.

In 2005, nearly 90 percent of the department felt that communication was encouraged with feedback regularly occurring. In 2007 that number dropped to 30 percent. Ninety percent of the department’s employees felt that they were kept informed and their input sought and well considered in 2005. This dropped to about 25 percent by 2007.

According to Spinks, the dissatisfaction could be attributed to the department’s sudden growth, including the addition of three new supervisors.

“We’ve gone through a significant change,” Spinks said. “We’re learning how to be good leaders.”

But despite this, the police department continues to succeed. Most recently, it was rewarded with a 2007 Target Zero award. The agency was one of only four in the state to receive the award.

“We have the best police department we’ve ever had here,” Councilman Bill Huizinga said.
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