New year, big changes for police

Tumwater Police Department sees increased staff, space, programs thanks to ’11 levy vote

ckrotzer@theolympian.comDecember 29, 2012 

The New Year will bring big changes for the Tumwater Police Department, with new staff, resurrected programs and more space.

A public safety levy lid lift approved by voters in 2011 provided the funds to hire three officers and double the size of the cramped station currently housed at Tumwater City Hall off Israel Road.

The department has not been able to hire any new positions since 2000, although the city has grown by more than 38 percent since 2002, said city spokesperson Heidi Cerniwey.

Levy funds also paid for three additional firefighters and a new fire truck for the Tumwater Fire Department. The levy allowed the city to collect $1.44 million in additional property taxes in 2012.

The police station was built in 1987, and has never been upgraded. The expansion is estimated to cost between $3.3 million and $4 million, adding 5,000 square-feet to the west side of the existing station.

The goal is to break ground in February. Bids go out to contractors Wednesday.

Officers have spent the past 25 years sharing office space between sergeants and detectives. The break room is also the patrol office, briefing area and where officers sort evidence. The new space will provide separate areas for each of those functions, as well as a Blood Alcohol Content or BAC room for officers to use when processing impaired drivers.

The cramped quarters extends beyond the officers and staff. Inmates are confined to a 14-foot by 10-foot holding cell with a wrap-around bench and no toilet facilities. Instead, the inmates have to use the staff restrooms.

When the main holding room is full, the other inmates are taken to the department’s interview room. Last week, officers had to cycle 16 people through the small holding cell.

The new building has more room for holding cells, as well as an external sally port, meaning officers would no longer have to walk inmates through the main office.

The upgrade also provides for increased security and cameras. The public entrance would also be separate from the officer’s entrance and moved from inside the city hall to the new section of the building. The current lobby will eventually be reduced to one office space and walled off from the rest of city hall.

The building isn’t the only department expansion. One of the three new officers will be a School Resource Officer, bringing a project back that was discontinued in 2002 because of staffing shortages.

“We needed those officers on the road,” Stines said.

There are 26 commissioned officers and five non-commissioned staff members at the station, which will grow to 27 commissioned officers by next year. The department hired two of the three officers in 2012. The hiring process of the third officer will likely begin in March, Stines said.

The goal is to have at least three officers on duty at every shift. The current capacity provides for only two officers during the overnight shift.

“One domestic violence call means there are no police out there for however long that call takes,” Stines said.

The new School Resource Officer, Det. Charles Liska, will spend time between Tumwater and Black Hills high schools, starting mid-January. The goal is to have two SROs, one at each high school with a presence at each middle school.

“We are missing out on making the greatest impact on that age group,” Stines said. “We are targeting ages where kids need mentors, educational guidance and occasionally a slap on the hand ... it’s dramatically important to have that program.”

Liska came to the Tumwater Police Department in 2005, but has been in law enforcement for the past 15 years. He previously worked as a SRO in Federal Way, a school environment he says is “very different” from Tumwater.

“Here it’s going to be an engagement and mentoring role, supporting the administration whether it is a criminal issue or social issue – that kind of thing,” Liska said. “There it was a lot more responding to crime, a lot more gang issues and violent crimes that we just don’t have the same amount of here.”

Liska plans on trying new ways to engage the students and make police officers more accessible to them, which might mean ditching the formal uniform and marked police car.

“It’s about not being responsive but more proactive,” Liska said.

He already plans to include a program about shaken baby syndrome, an issue he has come across far too often as a detective.

“It sickens me to have to go out to them, and this is the next group of kids having kids of their own one day, babysitting or have younger siblings,” Liska said. “I am using some of that experience that I have to build a relationship with the kids so they understand it’s not about me pulling you over, coming over when Mom and Dad are drunk or dealing with you when you have marijuana on you.

“It’s how can I help you become a man or woman of integrity, of honor and how do you use those abilities to improve the community?”

Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 @chelseakrotzer

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