EVERETT — Everett Police Department officers feel their community relations are strong but worry about staffing, while residents generally feel safe but think response priorities are “inconsistent,” a study’s early information shows.
Matrix Consulting Group owner and project manager Richard Brady outlined the fact-finding stage to the Everett City Council on Wednesday. The firm has conducted over 400 law enforcement assessments in Washington and previously reviewed Everett’s Public Works department.
Last year the council authorized a review of the department’s staffing and operations and potential need to create or expand “alternative strategies.” Everett’s general government fund budget this year includes up to 251 police department employees.
“Everett has experienced much change in the last couple of decades,” Brady said. “As a result, law enforcement work has grown and changed with it.”
The first phase for the Everett Police Department study included interviews and surveys of police officers, as well as five online community meetings to hear how residents felt about their safety and law enforcement.
Matrix also looked at other medium-sized police departments in Auburn, Federal Way, Kent, Renton and Vancouver as comparisons.
Through 40 interviews and 160 survey responses, officers said they felt supported by Chief Dan Templeman, command staff and the community.
But they listed personnel allocation and staffing as their top concern. They want more training and want retention efforts equal to the city’s recruitment push, which included up to $20,000 signing bonuses starting in 2017.
Officers also said they want more instruction for de-escalation techniques and procedural justice, a concept of policing that aims to make the public feel they’ve been treated with dignity, fairness and transparency throughout encounters.
Taking time for training can be difficult with the department’s current staffing, Brady said.
“When you’re down 20 or so positions, it’s hard to get people to go get training even if it’s not going out of town, even if it’s done virtually for one or two hours,” he said.
In community meetings, people who live and work in Everett said they generally feel safe. But perceptions vary around the city, and many feel less safe at night. Their concerns centered around unsheltered people or those experiencing mental health crises, Brady said.
People also reported officers’ response priorities seemed “inconsistent.” They wanted more engagement in neighborhood meetings. They also felt trust in police improved in the past year.
Some solutions include more evening visibility of officers, managing expectations on response, increasing the department’s involvement in community programs, recruitment to have officers better reflect the community’s demographics and greater transparency of complaints on officers’ actions, Brady said.
Compared to the similar-sized city police departments, Everett was second in sworn officers per square mile. But it was last in allotted patrol staffing.
Everett isn’t the only law enforcement agency struggling with recruitment and retention, even with higher pay and signing bonuses becoming more common.
“It’s not just the money,” Brady said. “You can throw money at the problem and it’s not going to help. Everyone made that decision.”
Councilmember Don Schwab said he wondered if the eight officer positions added to the budget this year was enough. The study will evaluate the department’s service call workload, expectations in proactive actions and staffing to help the city determine what the right size is, Brady said.
Councilmember Liz Vogeli said she wanted to learn how an emergency phone service for mental health needs could affect police work.
“The police are having to deal with everything,” Vogeli said. “Everything — from stolen tricycles to huge life-changing events.”
The study would look at how some of the work now handled by officers could be done by another department or another agency, Brady said.
A second update with further analysis could come in late June.
Ben Watanabe: firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.