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Police chief wants PO to join area narcotics team

Port Orchard’s police chief believes collaboration with another area police agency could curb overall crime around the city.

Chief Al Townsend approached the city’s finance committee June 5 to express his desire to dedicate a Port Orchard police officer to either the Bremerton Special Operations Group or the WestNET Drug Task Force. Joining either of the task forces could go a long way in stopping the overall rise in Port Orchard crime, said Townsend.

“Many problems are related to drugs and drug sales,” said Townsend. “We need to focus our efforts.”

In Townsend’s estimation, 80 percent of crime in the city can be related to drugs. The trend, according to police, is in smaller local drug operations rather than the large-scale out-of-town groups.

In 2011, Port Orchard saw a 20 percent increase in the total number of violent crimes reported and a nine-percent increase in property crimes reported. The city saw an overall jump in drug crimes, from 88 arrests in 2010 to 114 in 2011.

Townsend said joining a drug task force would require dedicating a full-time officer, which could stretch the already thin patrol units. Townsend said he preferred the Bremerton Police Special Operations Group over the WestNET task force because the smaller drug operations that populate Port Orchard might not rise to the top of WestNET’s priority list.

The Port Orchard Police Department has 23 officers, with another scheduled to be hired in September.

“On one hand, we’re giving up a body,” Townsend said. “We need bodies to take calls.

Members of the finance committee were hesitant to dedicate a police officer that might end up elsewhere in the county other than Port Orchard.

City Council member and Finance Committee chair John Clauson wondered if less patrol officers on the street could further hinder a taxed police force still figuring out how to deal with Port Orchard’s recent annexation of Bethel Corridor properties.

Clauson sought to delay the issue waiting until spring 2013, when property tax revenues from the annexation start coming in.

“It’s a huge investment for us,” Clauson said at the meeting.

Clauson said later that the committee would start formulating more questions and delve further into the task force idea. He expressed concern that losing an officer to the task force would put even more pressure on patrol officers seeing increased calls for retail theft in the Bethel Corridor.

“My concern is that we are planning to hire an additional employee in September and then turn that employee right back around to the task force,” he said. “Is this going to be a problem? Or does it benefit as an investment?”

Townsend said the benefit of joining a task force outweighs the negative aspect of losing a full-time employee.

In some instances, revenue sharing from drug seizures between the various police departments participating in the task force can offset some of the cost of the officer.

Townsend said he could delay committing an officer until the spring, but that the city needed to make a narcotics task force a priority.

Recurrent trouble spots and houses where felons and drug users congregate have sprouted up on Sidney Road. Citizens call and complain, said Townsend. While the police department keeps watch on those areas, a task force could keep a better eye on the homes and prepare better prosecution cases against some repeat offenders.

“We arrest people, but they end up back over there,” he said. “A task force could make a good, solid case against some of the offenders.”

 

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