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P.R.O. Team targets chronic problems

The Port Orchard Police Department is taking a different tack with regard to chronic community policing problems.

The P.R.O. Team project, launched when the school year ended earlier this month, focuses on repeat calls, constant issues such as property crime and domestic violence and neighborhood involvement programs such as Crime Watch.

Police Chief Al Townsend, who introduced the program, said he believes allowing two staff members to focus on these issues will eventually reduce call volume for the entire department.

“Where I came from, it was extremely successful,” Townsend said. “(These officers’) mission in life is to do things that are problem-oriented — solving the problems.”

The philosophy behind the program is what Townsend calls the “broken window theory.” Essentially, the theory states when a neighborhood looks attractive, it doesn’t attract crime.

Townsend explained the metaphor behind the name — it describes the phenomenon which causes people to become less concerned over breaking windows out of a deserted house as more panes get broken.

Fix the windows, Townsend said, and you’ve fixed the problem of windows getting broken.

“Where you have a broken-down neighborhood, that precipitates crime activity,” he said. “I’m talking about junk cars, truly broken windows, abandoned houses, junk that lays around outside. You deal with things people consider mundane problems — like trespassers and loiterers. You reduce crime just by dealing with that group of people because they were the ones perpetrating the larger crimes.”

The P.R.O. Team shifts are new ones — one 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., the other 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. School Resource Officer Robert McFann will be covering the day shift during the summer, until his replacement is finished training one of the department’s two recent hires.

The night shift will begin in mid-July.

“I’m excited, I really am,” McFann said. “I think this is the way to do things.”

Eventually, Townsend said, the P.R.O. Team will form one part of a larger problem resolution team, which will include representatives from the fire district, code enforcement, building inspection, health department and city government.

The team would meet regularly to identify issues facing the city and brainstorm ways of managing those issues. Townsend is hoping to convince one of Port Orchard’s seven city council members to participate in order to make any bureaucratic issues run more smoothly.

“That’s why (at my last department) the elected official was important — occasionally you needed money that wasn’t budgeted,” Townsend said. “If you had a councilperson on board, they could sell it beforehand and avoid long, drawn-out discussions.”

The two P.R.O. Team officers will still handle regular police work, Townsend said — the department is too busy to be able to spare two officers completely.

However, he believes even a part-time commitment to the Team would make a difference in some of the lesser problems his officers are constantly having to deal with.

“I think there’s plenty to work on,” Townsend said.

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