City wants to provide police officer to WestNet

The Port Orchard Police Department is hanging on tenterhooks, waiting to see if the city has enough money to support sending an officer to WESTNET.

WESTNET, a county-wide drug task force, is designed to halt the production and sale of drugs such as methamphetamine. Meth is a chronic problem in Kitsap County, and the Port Orchard police hope that having an officer on WESTNET will help the city combat its own drug problem.

“A great deal of criminal activity is related to methamphetamine,” said police Chief Al Townsend. “If we could make a dent in our meth problem, we could make a dent in our other problems.”

Police Chief Al Townsend pointed out that 80 percent of criminal cases county-wide are somehow related to meth. Townsend believes that meth use is behind the rise in property crime and aggravated assault charges.

“It’s probably the most addictive drug we’re aware of right now,” Townsend said. “All those [property crimes] are because people are trying to find ways of getting more of the drug.”

If a Port Orchard officer served on WESTNET, he or she would be able to act as a go-between for the police department as well as advocate for greater focus on the Port Orchard area.

Sgt. Randy Drake, a spokesman for WESTNET, said he supports the idea of a Port Orchard officer on the team. He points out that it would be a natural addition, because the task force is working so many drug cases in Port Orchard.

Port orchard did at one point have an officer in WESTNET, but when the officer left Port Orchard, no one came forward to replace him.

“If we’re not going to participate, we can’t ask them to come in and clean up Port Orchard,” Townsend said.

As part of the standard deal, WESTNET would pay for 75 percent of the officer’s salary for the first year. Port orchard would have to hire another officer to take his or her place, but because of the difference in salaries between the WESTNET officer and an incoming officer, the department would only have to come up with $5,000 to make up the difference.

WESTNET would only pay 50 percent of the salary in 2003 and 25 percent in 2004. By 2005, Port Orchard would be expected to pay the entire salary, so the city also has to look forward to affording the program in the future, Townsend said.

However, Townsend points out, the city can call the officer back at any time, so approving the program now would not lock them into paying for it a few years down the road.

In hopes that the city will approve the requested money, Townsend has stared asking for applications for the WESTNET position.

Drake said the job can attract a lot of people because narcotics investigation is seen as exciting by many. However, he looks for officers who are good self-starters, fit in well with the existing team and are willing to take on the cerebral aspect of the job — the need to stay one step ahead.

“We look for someone whose integrity is beyond reproach,” Drake said. “This job is pro-active, not reactive. It’s just a different approach to law enforcement.”

Townsend said he has gotten one application for WESTNET so far, but won’t reveal which of his officers sent it in.

“I’m not real worried because the one who has applied would do a fantastic job,” he said.

The city council is expected to make a decision on WESTNET and other budget requests by the first week of December.

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